The Peninsula Oilers will close their regular season today with a crucial Alaska Baseball League doubleheader against the Anchorage Bucs at Coral Seymour Memorial Park starting at 2 p.m.
The Oilers are locked in a tight battle with the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks for the fourth and final spot in the ABL Top of the World Series Playoffs.
The battle is complicated by the fact that the Chinooks, due to the cancellation of a game, will end up with one less game played than the Oilers.
While the Oilers and Bucs were getting rained out and postponed Saturday night, the visiting Anchorage Glacier Pilots did the Oilers a huge favor by rallying for four runs in the top of the ninth inning for a 5-2 victory over the Chinooks.
The Oilers are 14-28 and the Chinooks are 13-27, so the Oilers are currently in the lead for the final playoff spot based on their winning percentage of .333 vs. the .325 of the Chinooks.
The Chinooks have today off, then host the Pilots on Monday, travel to the Mat-Su Miners on Tuesday and host the Miners on Wednesday.
So all the Oilers can do is win as many as possible today and then sit back next week and wait to see if the Chinooks win enough games early next week to take over fourth.
One thing that is for sure in the playoffs is that the Bucs will have the top seed. Anchorage clinched the best record in the league by defeating the Oilers 10-8 on Friday to improve to 28-13.
Even though the Bucs have clinched, head coach Grant Palmer said his squad will play Sunday’s twin bill just as hard as any other game because what Anchorage really is after is the playoff title.
“That’s been the goal since the beginning of the season, but at the same time I’m proud of the guys for busting their butts to do what we did today,” he said.
The Bucs jumped out to a 10-2 lead after 3 1-2 innings, but just three of Anchorage’s runs were earned.
In the third, the Bucs had two runs in and two out when Ryan Sullivan broke his bat and hit a dribbler to second. With the debris in the air, Victor Carlino could not make the play, and let the ball get by him allowing Chad Castillo to score. The Bucs would end up with six runs in the inning off starter and loser Bryan Woo.
In the fourth inning, errors by shortstop Skyler Messinger and first baseman Connor McCord led to all four runs against reliever Kyle Muller being unearned.
“If we make those plays, we win the game,” Oilers head coach Kyle Brown said. “It’s that simple. I felt like we gave them this game. They’re a good team, but we gave it to them.”
Muller, Steven Ordorica, Drew Thorpe and Calvin Farris all combined to keep the Bucs off the board after the fourth inning to allow the Oilers to chip away at the lead.
But Bucs starter Liam Henry was solid, and fortunate, when he had to be. In the third inning, the Oilers trailed 6-2 and had runners on first and third with two outs when Messinger ripped a ball that was snared by Bucs third baseman Justin Cook to end the inning.
In the fourth, the Oilers had cut it to 10-3 and would have had runners on first and second, but Carlino was caught off second base when the Bucs cut the relay.
Henry then cruised through the fifth and sixth.
“We’ve emphasized with pitchers that when things get tough, you need to be tougher,” Palmer said. “He gave us six really strong innings.”
Led by a red-hot top of the order, the Oilers stormed back to make a game out of it by roughing up Bucs reliever Keaton Chase, who would give up five runs in 1 2-3 innings.
Leadoff hitter Travis Bohall was 4 for 5 with three RBIs and two runs, while No. 2 hitter Bobby Goodloe was 3 for 3 with two RBIs. But the next five in the order were just 2 for 21 as the Oilers let scoring opportunities pass by.
“We had a lot of ones up there that could have been crooked numbers,” Brown said.
In the seventh, the Oilers had cut it to 10-4 and had runners on first and third with two outs when Jaden Fein lined out to center fielder Isaac Barrera.
In the eighth, the Oilers sliced the lead to 10-8 and had runners on first and third with two outs when the Bucs called on closer Colton Rendon. He retired the last four batters in order to clinch the league’s best record.
“He’s been our horse all summer,” Palmer said of Rendon, who sports an ERA of 0.76. “We’re not in the position we are now without him.”
Paul Steffensen and Camden Vasquez each scored two runs for the Oilers. Blake Paugh was 2 for 5 with two runs for the Bucs, while Cole Tate had a bases-clearing triple that was extended to four bases after an error by McCord.