PALMER — As he described his team, Mat-Su Miners head coach Ben Taylor borrowed a page from the book of Bruce Bochy.
“Bruce Bochy always says, you are only as good as your bullpen and your bench,” Taylor said of the Major League skipper, who has led the San Francisco Giants to three World Series titles.
The Mat-Su Miners used that philosophy to earn a championship of their own.
Three relievers combined to throw five scoreless innings to help the Miners clinch the 2016 Alaska Baseball League championship, with a 9-3 win over the Peninsula Oilers on Sunday at Hermon Brothers Field in Palmer.
“We’ve got a great bullpen, we’ve got a great bench,” Taylor said as the Miners celebrated the team’s first ABL title since 2010 and fifth since 2004. “Guys step up on this team every night for this team, for this organization.”
It’s the second straight night in which the Mat-Su pen proved to be the difference maker. Saturday, a pair of relievers combined for 3 2/3 of scoreless innings, during a 3-1 win over the Oilers.
“It’s a mindset thing,” Mat-Su catcher Andy Cosgrove said of the Mat-Su relievers. “These guys have elite-level mindsets. They’re just really good at coming in, and knowing exactly what they have to do, and doing it. It’s awesome. I worry about the starter coming out, but as soon as I see the guy running in from right field, I know it’s another guy I can trust. It’s just back-to-back-to-back. Happens every single time. It’s wonderful.”
Sunday, Tyler Wyatt earned the win on the mound for the Miners, pitching three innings of relief.
“It felt good, felt like the coaches have trust in me,” Wyatt said. “They put me in with a one-run lead. With our pitching staff, this whole season, that has been plenty.”
After a pivotal 2 2-3 innings of work on Saturday, in Game 1 of the best-of-three series, reliever Mick Vorhof returned for another one-third of an inning Sunday. Closer Jordan Floyd pitched the final 1 2-3 innings of the season to record a Top of the World Series save for the second straight night.
Once Floyd forced the final out, a ground ball to Miners shortstop Josh Bissonette, Floyd flipped his glove into the air before he was mobbed by teammates, who formed a celebratory dog pile near the mound.
“It feels pretty good to see how hard these guys have worked all year, all the time they put in, how committed they are,” said Taylor, who earned his first ABL title as a skipper after three consecutive league runner-up finishes with the Miners. “To be able to see them raise that trophy, win that game is pretty special.”
While Mat-Su’s bullpen was once again stellar, the Miners were able to attack a depleted Oilers pitching staff. The Oilers also used four pitchers in the game, after starter Hunter Freeman lasted only two innings. Zack Hamilton logged the most work, pitching in five innings. A pair of pitchers, Caleb Wood and Andrew Bash, pitched one inning each.
Each Oilers pitcher allowed at least two earned runs in the game, and the Oilers also surrendered nine walks.
The bulk of the damage for the Miners, who were officially the away team at their home park due to tournament rules, came with four runs in the top of the ninth.
“It made it from worrisome, everyone’s tight to it’s loose, we’re having fun,” Cosgrove said of the late insurance runs.
But before that, it was a much different ballgame. Peninsula led first, scoring a run in the first inning, but even after the Miners took the lead, Mat-Su had just a one-run advantage entering the fifth.
“They came at us all night. We had to compete for every out, every strike we threw,” Taylor said of the Oilers. “Much respect, full compliments to the Oilers. That’s a really good baseball team. This was a really tough series.”
Mat-Su used a variety of ways — sacrifice fly balls, sacrifice bunts, RBI hits — to drive in runs Sunday.
“We became more of a complete offense about 10 or 15 games into the year, started playing some small ball, found a system that worked,” Taylor said. “These guys just compete every night.”
Leadoff hitter Jacob Hughey finished 4 for 5, with a run and an RBI to lead the Miners. Garrison Schwartz was 2 for 3, with a run and two RBI. Angelo Armenta drove in two runs. Cosgrove scored twice. Levi Jordan added a hit, RBI and two runs. Brooks Stotler, Scooter Bynum and Jake Scudder also scored. Scudder, who was 3 of 4 with the go-ahead RBI Saturday, drew five walks Sunday.
The Oilers were held to only five hits in the game. Trey Dawson, Seth DeWitt and Alex Seifert drove in runs. Jonathan Washam, Marshall Boggs and Seifert scored for Peninsula.
Overall, Taylor lauded the group that delivered the organization a championship.
“In all my years of college baseball and summer baseball, this is the most selfless group of players I’ve ever been around,” Taylor said. “They will do whatever it takes for each other, and for themselves as a unit to win games, to get better. It’s a really special group.”
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman sports editor Jeremiah Bartz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Miners 9, Oilers 3
Miners AB R H BI Oilers AB R H BI
Hghy dh 5 1 4 1 Hill cf 4 0 0 0
Jrdn 2b 3 2 1 1 Dwsn ss 4 0 1 1
Swtz lf 3 1 2 2 Wsm 1b 3 1 1 0
Ddio lf 4 0 1 1 DWt dh 3 0 1 1
Bnm pr 0 1 0 0 Wng lf 2 0 0 0
Mgry rf 0 0 0 0 Wfrd lf 2 0 0 0
Scdr 1b 0 1 0 0 Bgs 2b 3 1 0 0
Bste ss 4 0 0 1 Spk rf 4 0 0 0
Amta 3b 5 0 1 2 Hbr c 3 0 0 0
Cgrv c 3 2 1 1 Sfrt 3b 3 1 2 1
Stlr cf 3 1 1 0 —- — — — —
Totals 30 9 11 9 Totals 31 3 5 3
Miners 003 101 004 —9
Oilers 101 100 000 —3
2B — Schwartz, Armenta, Cosgrove, Dawson, DeWitt. SF — Jordan, Donadio, Bissonette, Cosgrove, Seifert. SH — Stotler, Huber. SB — Seifert. E — Jordan, Armenta, Wyatt, Boggs. LOB — Miners 9, Oilers 6. DP — Oilers 3, Miners 2.
IP H R ER BB SO
Vernia 4 4 3 2 1 1
Wyatt, W 3 1 0 0 0 2
Vorhof 1-3 0 0 0 0 0
Floyd, S 1 2-3 0 0 0 0 0
Freeman, L 2 2 3 3 4 0
Hamilton 5 5 2 2 4 1
Wood 1 2 2 2 0 1
Bash 1 2 2 2 1 0