With the Alaska Baseball League summer season winding down and playoff spots on the line, the Peninsula Oilers may have made the right moves under pressure.
The Oilers began a four-game series Thursday against the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks with a crucial 8-2 victory at Coral Seymour Memorial Park to separate themselves by two games for the fourth and final postseason spot. The Oilers (17-22) sit nine games behind the ABL leaders Mat-Su Miners (27-14), while the Chinooks (15-24) are 11 games back.
Leading the charge Thursday was newcomer Paul Kunst, who hit 2 for 3 in his Peninsula debut as a second baseman and had a sacrifice fly to give the Oilers a third-inning lead. Kunst also knocked out a timely single in the fifth to load the bases, setting up Nathan Webb to deliver a tie-breaking RBI single to put Peninsula ahead for good.
The Oilers scored four runs in the eighth inning to effectively ice the game, highlighted by a three-run double by Caleb Hicks that put them up 7-2, and Billy Clemens guided the Oilers home with three perfect innings of relief. Clemens retired all nine batters he faced and struck out one while hitting 22 of 32 pitches for strikes with a combination of his fastball and curve.
“I had some late change-ups to throw off their timing,” Clemens said.
Clemens said getting ahead in the count against Chugiak’s batters served him well, allowing him the freedom to throw what he believed worked best.
“We have scouting reports but it’s whatever fits you,” he said. “It’s about getting ahead and attacking them.”
The Oilers picked up Kunst, a late recruit from the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks, who was waiting at the Anchorage airport for a flight back home this week when the team contacted him.
Oilers head coach Jim Dietz said the importance of Thursday’s victory was not lost on the team, which dropped the final two games of a four-game series with the Miners earlier in the week.
“We want to make the playoffs for the city of Kenai and for the community,” he said.
Dietz added that starting pitcher Aaron Shoup and Clemens poured in crucial innings on the mound for the Oilers, who will need to rely on a deep bullpen in the final three games of the Chinooks series.
“Clemens looked outstanding, he’s really come into his own,” Dietz said. “(Shoup) going six innings, that’s everything.
“You don’t know how big that is.”
Shoup went six innings for the Oilers, striking out three and giving up two runs on five hits and two walks in the win. Aidan Stout took the loss for the Chinooks with seven frames of pitching, giving up eight runs on 11 hits and two walks.
Overall, the Oilers outhit the Chinooks 12 to 5.
The Oilers and Chinooks play a doubleheader today at 4 p.m., and a finish up the series Saturday at 2 p.m.
Chugiak took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on an RBI double by Brandon Michie with a shot just fair down the left field line.
The Oilers answered in the bottom of the frame when Kellen Strahm scored on a throwing error by right-fielder Levi Gilcrease, whose throw to third following a single by Nathan Webb was high, to tie it up at 1-all.
Kunst gave the Oilers a 2-1 lead on a sac fly in the third, but the Chinooks came right back in the top of the fourth when Luke Coffey tied it up at 2-all with a sac fly to center field.
Also in the fourth, Chugiak’s Alex Schmitz loaded the bases with one out on an error by Kunst, who bobbled the ball at second base, but Jeremy Johnson grounded into a double play to get Shoup out of the jam.
Kunst loaded the bases on an infield single in the bottom of the fifth, giving the Oilers a chance with just one out on the board, and Webb delivered with an RBI single on a grounder by third base. Thomas Ruddy followed that up with an infield single that pushed the lead to 4-2. Hoehner grounded into a double play to end the inning.
Finally, in the bottom of the eighth, Peninsula loaded the bases on an infield single by Thomas Ruddy, a liner by Hoehner and a walk by Benjamin Wanger.
Hicks then cranked a bases-clearing double to the left-center gap to bolster the Oilers lead to 7-2. Strahm brought in an additional run on a fielder’s choice knock.