In losing three straight heading into Friday’s contest with the Chugiak Chinooks at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai, Oilers head coach Brian Daly said his team had been hitting well but making “loud outs.”
Oilers third baseman Jeffrey Chapuran thought he had done just that when, with two away in the bottom of nine, two strikes and the score locked at 1 in the Alaska Baseball League contest, he launched a sizzling fly ball into the clearing summer sky above the park.
“To be honest, I thought it was a pop-out to the outfielder,” Chapuran said. “Then I rounded first base and saw it go out.
“I was in disbelief until I got to home plate.”
Believe it, Jeffrey. The ball you hit is nestled next to the 17th fairway at the Kenai Eagle disc golf course, you’ve got your first homer of the summer and first of the walk-off variety for your career, and your teammates are mobbing you after a 2-1 win.
Billy Oxford, who gave up just one hit in keeping the Chinooks scoreless for the first six innings, said moments like Friday can impact more than just one game.
“That’s the type of thing that can turn a season around, whether it’s summer ball, the regular season or the postseason,” the 6-foot-1, 210-pound right-hander said. “That gets a team going and makes us remember why we play the game.”
The bomb off Chinooks sidearmer Nick Campe had momentum that lasted through the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader with the Chinooks, with the Oilers winning 3-1. But the Chinooks came back to claim a 9-5 victory in the second game.
The Oilers are now 8-9 in the ABL, while the Chinooks are 10-11. Both are tied for second, three games behind the league-leading Mat-Su Miners.
Chapuran has watched even the Oilers’ most powerful hitters sting some balls that haven’t left Seymour Park’s notoriously stingy confines, but Daly, coaching third base, figured the ball was gone.
“He’s a well-put-together guy,” Daly said of Chapuran, who he coached at Southeastern Illinois College this season. “If he gets ahold of one, it’ll go. Even in the graveyard.”
The Oilers started fast Friday, with Brody Wofford doubling to score Trey Dawson for a 1-0 lead after one inning.
But then Oxford and Chinooks starter Robert Winslow settled into a pitcher’s duel. While Oxford’s slider was keeping Chugiak off-balance, Winslow worked through 6 2-3 innings, giving up just the one run on two hits.
After working through some cramping in his right wrist flexors in the fifth, Oxford let the Chinooks put runners on first and third with two outs in the sixth.
Tim Millard drove the gap in right center, but Oilers center fielder Darius Hill saved a few runs by diving and picking the ball off the grass at full stretch. Daly said the play showed why Hill started every game as a freshman for West Virginia.
“That was a phenomenal play, especially considering the situation,” Oxford said. “I owe him something, for sure.”
But in the seventh, Ethan Wiskur would greet Oilers reliever Cody Wood with his league-leading fourth homer of the summer. Wood would leave two runners on for reliever Andrew Bash, but Bash escaped further damage with a strikeout and two fly balls.
That set the stage for Chapuran in the bottom of the ninth, an inning in which the sun broke from the clouds and lightened air that had been increasingly cold and damp.
Whether that played a role in the walk-off that kicked off a holiday weekend with some early fireworks will never be known.
“I’d been seeing the ball well all game,” Chapuran said. “I’d hit well, but right at people. I’m just happy I was able to get it done at the right time.”
Saturday, Dom Bazzani pitched a solid six innings for the win and Ryan Lillie picked up the save as the Oilers won the first game 3-1. Chapuran scored on an error on a Hill hit, then Marshall Boggs hit a two-run home run to account for the other tallies.
In the 9-5 loss, starter Justin Montgomery had a no-hitter until the fifth, when the Chinooks scored seven runs on five hits. The big blow was a grand slam by Hunter Vansau.
Cody White had the win on the bump for Chugiak.
The Oilers host the Chinooks at 2 p.m. today.
Oilers 2, Chinooks 1
Chinooks AB R H BI Oilers AB R H BI
Bass 2b 4 0 1 0 Hill cf 4 0 0 0
Mlrd c 4 0 0 0 Dwsn ss 3 1 0 0
Vnsu rf 3 0 1 0 Wfrd rf 4 0 1 1
Mlrd 3b 2 0 0 0 DWt 1b 3 0 0 0
Wskr 1b 4 1 1 1 Wng lf 4 0 0 0
Sfrd dh 3 0 1 0 Whm dh 3 0 0 0
Snfd lf 3 0 0 0 Cprn 2b 4 1 1 1
Avrz ss 4 0 0 0 Hbr c 3 0 1 0
Plsn cf 3 0 0 0 Sfrt 3b 3 0 1 0
Totals 30 1 4 1 Totals 31 2 4 2
Chugiak 000 000 100 —1
Peninsula 100 000 001 —2
2B — Bass, Wofford. HR — Wiskur, Chapuran. E — Alvarez. LOB — Chinooks 7, Oilers 6. DP — Oilers 1.
IP H R ER BB SO
Winslow 6 2-3 2 1 1 2 5
Campe, L 2 2 1 1 0 0
Oxford 6 1 0 0 3 7
Wood 0 2 1 1 1 0
Bash 2 1 0 0 1 1
Lillie, W 1 0 0 0 0 0
Wood pitched to 3 batters in the 7th.