Oilers starting pitcher Liam Rocha delivers the first pitch of the season to the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks on Saturday, June 5, 2021, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Oilers starting pitcher Liam Rocha delivers the first pitch of the season to the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks on Saturday, June 5, 2021, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Oilers come back to beat Panners in opener

After taking 2020 off due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Peninsula Oilers returned to Coral Seymour Memorial Park with a come-from-behind, 6-5 victory over the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks on Saturday.

The exhibition game was scheduled for seven innings. After the Oilers scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game, Oilers pitcher and winner Henry Bird was able to hold the Panners in the top of the eighth even though extra-inning rules say each team gets to start the inning with a runner on second base.

The Oilers then started the bottom of the eighth with Ben Grunberg on second. The Oilers would then load the bases with no outs on an error and intentional base on balls. Losing pitcher Elijah Dale then hit Owen Christy to force in the winning run.

The Oilers had come back to tie the game in the seventh off Dale, with the big hit a triple by Andrew Sojka that scored Bryce Marsh to tie things up.

Larry McCann, an assistant at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California, is in his first year as head coach of the Oilers. McCann came to the Alaska Baseball League in 2018 as an assistant with the Anchorage Glacier Pilots. He was eventually made interim head coach that season.

After serving as an Oilers assistant in 2019, McCann was set to be the head coach in 2020 before the season was canceled.

In an interview looking ahead to the season before Saturday’s game, McCann said former Oilers general manager Kyle Brown put together the majority of the team, with current general manager AJ LaMonda filling holes as they arose.

McCann said he arrived on the Kenai Peninsula on May 29. The Oilers gave clinics to Homer and Soldotna little leagues Thursday and Seward and Kenai little leagues Friday.

“I think everybody is looking to get outside,” McCann said. “It’s looking like we’ll have pretty good crowds this year.”

That held true for the opener, when cars poured out of the parking lot and filled up the blocks surrounding the park.

McCann said 21 of the players are here. Five more will arrive once the team goes to Anchorage on Tuesday.

“I think we’ll be a really competitive, young team,” McCann said. “Our pitching staff will be really competitive. We’ll swing the bat and play defense.”

The head coach added the three nonconference games are not about wins and losses, but getting a good look at each player. McCann saw three pitchers Saturday. The Oilers play the Panners at 3 p.m. today and 6 p.m. Monday.

McCann said his preferred style of play is putting the ball in play and putting pressure on the defense.

The Oilers have two players with local ties — Mose Hayes of Homer and Tanner Ussing of Soldotna.

McCann said the ABL is all about allowing talent to emerge. At this early date, he said three names fans can watch for are catcher Taylor Johnson of the University of Southern California, infielder John Olmstead of USC and outfielder Sojka of California State University, Northridge.

Ben Grunberg of the Oilers squares up a pitch from the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks on Saturday, June 5, 2021, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai, Alaska. For more on the Oilers home opener after missing all of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, see Sports on page A6. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Ben Grunberg of the Oilers squares up a pitch from the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks on Saturday, June 5, 2021, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai, Alaska. For more on the Oilers home opener after missing all of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, see Sports on page A6. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

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