With the race for the final playoff spot in the Alaska Baseball League heating up, so are the Peninsula Oilers.
The Oilers split a doubleheader, thanks in part to the bat of Caleb Hicks, Thursday evening at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai.
Hicks cranked two home runs over the outfield fence to send the Oilers to a 5-2 win in the nightcap. Peninsula lost the opening game 5-2. Hicks’ solo shot in the bottom of the sixth of Game 2 put him into a tie atop the ABL home run list with Blake Benefield of the Mat-Su Miners. Both sluggers have six yard shots this year.
“I just try to keep it simple,” the 6-foot-2 junior out of Murray State University (Kentucky) said. “I look for one pitch and try to get the barrel on it.”
Peninsula has won four of its last five games, putting it one game above the Chugiak Chinooks for the fourth and final playoff spot. The Chinooks also split a doubleheader Thursday, making for no movement in the standings, and with 12 games to go in the Oilers’ season, the time to get hot is now.
“For us as a team, I feel like we can beat anybody,” Hicks said.
Hicks has two multihomer games, adding to the two-homer game July 10 against the Bucs. Five of Hicks’ six dingers have come against the Bucs.
One night after belting out 15 base hits in an 11-3 blowout over the Bucs, Oilers head coach Jim Dietz said any offensive production the team can get is huge.
“They’re all big,” Dietz said. “That second home run (by Hicks) was big because if he hadn’t hit it, the tying run would’ve been at the plate at the end.”
Trent Paddon earned the save for the Oilers with a scoreless inning of work, inducing a double play after allowing the first two base runners to reach and striking out Anchorage’s big man Jake Vieth to end the game.
Kyle Lucke struck out six in a six-inning start for the Oilers in the nightcap, giving up two runs on six hits and one walk along the way.
Anchorage’s Domenic Colacchio opened the scoring in the second game of the night with an RBI single in the top of the second, following up on consecutive singles by David Hensley and Michael Fuchs.
Mason Fishback loaded the bases on a bunt, and after Cody Sporrer struck out looking, Jace VanDeBrake plated a second run on an RBI sacrifice fly.
The Oilers answered in the bottom of the second with four runs to take a lead. Hicks launched his fifth homer of the year to cut Anchorage’s lead in half with a rainbow shot over the left field wall.
Kellen Strahm tied the game on an RBI single and Jack Bauer scored the go-ahead run on the throw to third by center fielder Hensley. Deveaux added a run-scoring single to make it 4-2.
In the first game of the day, the Bucs overcame a 2-0 deficit by scoring four runs in the top of the sixth to secure the win.
Mike LeBeau entered in the top of the sixth with the Oilers clinging to a 2-1 lead, but gave up four runs in a tough outing. The floodgates opened for Anchorage with two outs on the board. Vieth led off with a single, and Fuchs put two runners on with a liner to right field. Colacchio then bunted to LeBeau, who whipped the ball right back to home plate and catcher Mikey Hoehner for the out on Bucs’ pinch runner Cole Kleszcz for out number two.
Schubert loaded the bases with an infield single, then was followed by a go-ahead two-run single by Sporrer to give the Bucs a 3-2 lead.
Two more runs scored on a two-out double by VanDeBrake. After issuing a walk to Todd Lott to put two runners on, LeBeau was pulled in favor of Preston Plovanich, who got the final out on a pop-out by Pete Derkay, ending the inning with the Bucs leading 5-2.
Devin Hayes started for the Oilers and gave up a run on five hits and two walks, striking out four in five innings of work.
Seth Kaneen started for the Bucs and earned the win by striking out three in four innings, giving up two runs on two hits and two walks. A.J. Sawyer and Logan Boyer combined to pitch three innings of scoreless, hitless relief. Boyer received the save, his first of the summer.
Anchorage rolled out 11 hits to the Oilers’ 2, and four Bucs batters finished with two hits apiece, led by Sporrer’s 2-for-3 day with two RBIs.
The Oilers opened the scoring in the bottom of the third starting with a two-out single by Strahm to put two runners on, and Isaac Deveaux brought both runs in on a double to right field to put the Oilers up 2-0.
A balk by Hayes in the top of the fourth advanced two runners into scoring position, and Hensley made him pay with an RBI sac fly to center field to cut the gap to 2-1.
With two outs on the board, Colacchio lined a single to left field to put runners on the corners, but Gunnar Schubert hit a laser shot directly to Hayes to end the threat.
Later, the Oilers got a two-out walk from Ryan Smith in their final attempt at a rally, but Jack Bauer struck out to end the game.