In their first two opening games of the season against the Mat-Su Miners, the Peninsula Oilers used dominant pitching and stifling defensive play to take both wins.
Friday night at a rainy Coral Seymour Memorial park in Kenai, the Oilers authored another defensive masterpiece, but the bats came alive to support the good work as well.
Peninsula notched a third straight shutout with an 8-0 thrashing of the Anchorage Glacier Pilots to improve to 3-0 for the summer, the team’s best start since 2012.
“We’re for real,” said a grinning Oilers head coach Brian Daly. “We still have seven guys on the way, so I think we’re only going to get better.”
It’s been the story thus far of the first week of the summer for the Oilers. Not only did the team notch another shutout Friday night, but they had to finish it out in the rain, which arrived in the seventh inning and provided the players and umpires with a solid dousing before subsiding just before the end of the eighth.
Before that, St. Mary’s College sophomore Billy Oxford pitched a masterful six innings, giving up three hits and striking out eight with just one walk.
“It’s been great so far,” Oxford said about the early dominance from the mound. “Part of the reason it’s been good is the fielding, they don’t make many mistakes and it’s nice to have them back there.”
In the 27 innings that have played out thus far, the opposition has yet to score a run on the Oilers. As a team, the Oilers have given up just seven hits, and Oxford has combined with starters Dom Bazzani and Justin Montgomery and relievers Tyler Schumpert and Yi-Hsin Huang to post the three-game shutout streak between the five of them. The quintet has also struck out 28 while issuing just six walks.
Daly emphasized the importance of yielding a stout pitching staff in a summer that features a heavy schedule of 60 games for the Oilers in 57 days.
“It was another quality start,” Daly said about Oxford’s performance Friday. “With the amount of games we have, it’s huge to have your starters go deep like that, and not have to reach into your bullpen.”
Schumpert took over for Oxford on Friday and struck out five batters with only one walk and one hit in three scoreless innings of relief.
“I know the pitchers like it because for every shutout, they get to hit (in batting practice),” Daly said. “We’re going to have to start showing up three hours early just for pitchers BP.
“It’s a good problem to have.”
A nasty slider and changeup gave Oxford the ticket to success Friday night, and a fastball added a little extra difficulty to the Pilots batting core, even as the rain threatened.
“It was working really well for me,” Oxford said. “With the rain, you have to stay mentally prepared, and not let anything affect you.”
With the stealthy core of pitchers the coaching staff has brought in, the Oilers haven’t had to rely on much hitting. Yet, the team finally broke out the bats Friday.
Seth DeWitt, who has manned first base in the Oilers first two games of the season, came on as a designated hitter Friday and made his DH role count, smacking a three-run homer outside of the left field wall on a fastball from Pilots reliever Timothy Holdgrafer. The bomb broke the game wide open for the Oilers, which saw their lead go from 3-0 to a comfortable 6-0.
In the pitcher-friendly confines of Coral Seymour, the walls can seem like a mile away, but DeWitt is comfortable with that.
“Where I play is pretty big too,” DeWitt said, referring to John Sessions Stadium on the Jacksonville University campus where he attends.
DeWitt shined as first baseman on Wednesday and Thursday, making several nifty plays to get outs against the Miners, and called the Oilers pitching staff “unbelievable”.
“The coaches have done an unreal job in getting this group of guys here,” DeWitt said. “It’s very rare you have three back-to-back-to-back shutouts.”
The shutout streak had moments that came close to seeing it broken, such as the top of the eighth, when the rain was falling. Pilots third baseman Jeremiah Burks was given a walk, then stole second and third, putting him 90 feet away from a run.
However, Schumpert ended the inning on a strikeout of Kyle Watson.
Earlier in the game, Watson stole a base and advanced on an error to reach third, looking to score when a pop fly by Isaac Feldstein put an end to those thoughts.
Prior to DeWitt’s blast, Peninsula had scored three runs on three different plays. Brian Ruhm opened the scoring on a passed ball in the first inning, then Jeff Chapuran belted out a double to deep center field in the bottom of the fourth to score DeWitt for a 2-0 lead. Chapuran was brought home on a sacrifice fly by Daniel Szpik.
In the bottom of the eighth, Chapuran scored on an error when Szpik tried to steal second but Anchorage catcher Tyrus Green’s throw was awry, and Szpik later scored on a fielder’s choice knock by Austin Piscotty to make it 8-0.
Trent Lunsford took the loss on the mound for the Pilots, going four innings and giving up two earned runs on three hits and two walks.
Oilers 8, Glacier Pilots 0
Rttr, 2b4010Sfrt, lf5110
Brks, 3b3010Rhm, cf4110
Wtsn, ss3000Mllr, c4000
Wltr, dh4010Dwtt, dh1213
Fldn, cf3000Wang, 1b3000
Oar, rf4000Cprn, ss3211
Sndr, 1b3000Szpk, rf3111
Crd, lf3010Bash, 2b3010
Grne, c3000Pcty, 3b3101
Pilots 000 000 000 —0 4 3
Oilers 100 230 020 —8 6 1
HR — DeWitt (1). SB — Burks 4 (6), Watson (1), Ruhm (3), Szpik (2). CS — Bash (1). E — Watson (1), Greene (1), Lunsford (1), Miller (1).
LOB — Pilots 6, Oilers 5.
T — 2:34.