The underdog story ended Saturday for the Peninsula Oilers with a 4-0 loss to the Anchorage Bucs at Mulcahy Stadium.
After avoiding elimination and forcing a winner-take-all showdown with a 4-2 win Friday, the fourth-seeded Oilers couldn’t find the same magic and failed to extend their season Saturday against two of the toughest pitchers the club has faced this year.
Bucs starter Mason Wells and closer Colton Rendon combined to pitch a shutout with seven strikeouts and five hits, while not allowing a base runner past second base until the final frame.
Oilers head coach Kyle Brown said he threw everything he had at the No. 1-seeded Bucs but ultimately the drain of the season took its toll.
“I’m super proud of the kids for several reasons, first the amount of adversity they had to overcome,” Brown said, highlighting a difficult midseason stretch that saw a flurry of injuries hit the club.
“To lose eight players in 10 days, they could’ve packed it up right then,” he said. “That’s when we skidded, but they didn’t do that, they continued to work hard, play hard and play good competitive baseball.
“We could’ve been a chirpy team, we could’ve responded to other teams’ antics, but we held our composure. I loved the maturity and energy and fight we had.”
With a league-high 29 regular-season wins, the Bucs showed why they were the best team in the ABL this year, returning to the Top of the World Series for a third straight year. They will face the Anchorage Glacier Pilots for the ABL title starting today in the best-of-three-game series.
Wells, a Gonzaga University lefty, pitched a no-hitter into the fifth inning, when Peninsula’s Giancarlo Servin broke it up with a one-out single. Brown said the Oilers struggled to hone in Wells’ arm motion, which produces a challenging cutter.
“Mr. Wells from pitch one was absolutely dialed in,” Brown said. “He was just absolutely lights out, and his cutter beat us.”
Against the Oilers this year, Wells went 4-0 with a 1.42 ERA, including consecutive scoreless starts on July 28 and Saturday’s playoff decider.
The game was a tense pitchers duel over the first five frames. Brown answered Anchorage’s starter nomination with Oilers right-hander Bryan Woo, the 2019 ABL Prospect of the Year who struck out seven over five innings of one-hit ball. Woo was pulled from a scoreless game in the bottom of the sixth with one on and no outs, and ended up with a run scored on his sheet.
“Those first five innings were absolutely fantastic,” Brown said. “Those innings were electric.”
Connor McCord finished the game for the Oilers and took the loss with three innings of relief, giving up three runs on four hits and four walks, with four strikeouts.
The Bucs broke the scoreless game with a run in the sixth, then added two in the seventh and one more in the eighth. In the sixth, consecutive singles by Taishi Nakawake and Chad Castillo put runners on the corners, and Blake Paugh brought in a run on a sac fly to put Anchorage up 1-0.
The big smash came in the bottom of the seventh when Justin Cook ripped a two-run homer over the fence for a 3-0 lead.
Cook brought home another run in the eighth, grounding into a double play after the Bucs loaded the bases with no outs.
Perhaps the Oilers’ best chance to score came in the sixth when a pair of two-out singles from Travis Bohall and Bobby Goodloe put two on, but Connor McCord couldn’t bring them home after flying out.
The Oilers put two runners in scoring position with one out in the top of the ninth, starting with a walk issued to Skyler Messinger and a single by Servin, but Rendon got out of the jam with two straight outs to end the game and send the Oilers packing.
Servin ended up 2 for 4 to lead the Oilers from the plate Saturday, while Bohall, Goodloe and Jonathan Villa each picked up a base hit as well.
Friday’s Game 2 win kept the Oilers alive in the ABL best-of-three semifinal series and forced a winner-take-all Game 3 Saturday.
The key Friday for the Oilers was pitching eight consecutive shutout innings after giving up two first-inning runs.
“It’s huge,” said Brown, who earned his first postseason win with the club. “We know the Bucs have a lot of offense, so for us to be able to blank them over eight frames, get some big double plays when we needed them, it’s huge. It’s confidence.”
Eric Reardon shook off the wobbly start to go six innings, getting four strikeouts and three walks while scattering four hits.
The Peninsula bullpen duo of Jonathan Carlos and Heath Olive then wrapped it up with three combined scoreless frames. Carlos pitched two no-hit innings with three walks, and Olive earned the save with a strikeout and one hit.
“It was all hands on deck, ready to go,” he said. “It’s must win, do or die, and they understood the urgency.”
The offense came through for the Oilers in the later innings, as Connor McCord tied the game on an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth and Bobby Goodloe gave Peninsula the lead in the seventh on a single. McCord added an insurance run on a sac fly.
Brown said Reardon looked uncomfortable on the mound to start the game, but by the third inning, the Rutgers University lefty was cruising.
“Our guys didn’t panic, they picked up Reardon,” he said. “They showed the willingness to win and they didn’t check out.”
Putting Carlos on the mound in the seventh served the Long Beach State freshman well, as Brown said Carlos was used more as a setup role in college.
Olive’s ninth inning went quick, as a two-out double by Kyle Hopson was the only blemish on his record.
“Luckily for us, he was on,” Brown said about Olive.
Goodloe put the Oilers on the board in the third on an RBI single, and finished the game 2 for 3 with two RBIs. McCord’s game-tying single in the sixth and sac fly in the seventh gave him two RBIs as well, as he finished 1 for 3. Skyler Messinger hit 2 for 4.
Brown said McCord’s long sac fly was hit hard enough to nearly warrant a home run.
“If that was in Kenai, that ball would’ve been in the apartment complex across the street there,” he said.
Carlos induced a crucial double play to get two important outs in the eighth against the Bucs, then struck out heavy hitter Blake Paugh to get out of the inning.
With the gloomy financial state of the Oilers putting the 2020 season in doubt, Brown said the hope is that Saturday’s loss wasn’t the last in the Oilers’ foreseeable future. In securing the team’s first playoff win in three years, Brown said Saturday’s postgame atmosphere was dulled by the players’ return to their respective colleges, where they will still play a spring season in 2020.
“It finally set in once the game was over, everyone gave each other a hug, we took a team photo,” he said. “And after that, they realized, ‘Wow, we’re done’. I told them, you guys should be excited, you’ve been up here a long time, 10 weeks.
“It probably won’t be until about two weeks from now when it really sets in. … I think they’ll miss that.”
Brown said he would welcome a return to the Oilers for a fourth year in 2020, if the team can produce the funds.
“The (Oilers) have changed me to be a better coach, a better community member, a better person,” he said. “The peninsula will always be a part of me. It’s something I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.”