Playing their third of a seven-game road trip, the Oilers entered Thursday’s clash against the Mat-Su Miners with the Alaska Baseball League lead, a half game ahead of their Valley rivals.
A wild nine innings at Hermon Brothers Field saw a little of everything, but a furious rally wasn’t enough for the Oilers to topple the Miners, which prevailed 8-7 to reclaim the top spot in the ABL. The Miners (12-8) lead by a half game over the Oilers (12-9).
The Miners took a daunting 8-1 lead after six innings, but the Oilers responded with six unanswered runs to close to within a run in the top of the ninth. Evan Berkey provided the biggest play with a two-run double to cut the lead to 8-6, and later scored on a wild pitch by Mat-Su reliever Bryce Tassin.
However, with the tying run at first, a strikeout by Michael Yourg put an end to the rally attempt.
A key difference for the Oilers in their recent stretch of games has been their defense. In a brief two-game series with the Miners in mid-June, the Oilers gave up two runs total over 19 innings in two games.
In two games against Mat-Su on Tuesday and Thursday, the Oilers have given up 25 total runs over 18 innings.
The night did include several stellar defensive plays by the Oilers to keep Mat-Su from adding onto their lead late in the game, highlighted by an impressive relay tag on a base hit in the eighth from centerfielder Brian Leonhardt to catcher Ryan Koch at the plate to catch the runner, leading to an argument and ensuing ejection of Miners head coach Ben Taylor.
The Oilers will face the Chugiak/Eagle River Chinooks tonight at 7 p.m. Peninsula prevailed over the Chinooks in its most recent meeting Wednesday night, and the team is 4-5 against Chugiak this summer.
Grant Wood hit 2 for 3 with two walks to lead the Oilers at the dish, and Ryan Novis, John Mackay and Leonhardt each finished with two hits as well.
Cal Baptish University right-hander Ryan Silva started for the Oilers and was tagged with six runs on six hits and two walks in 3 2/3 innings of work.
Sitka product Erickson Fish tossed 2 1/3 frames of relief, giving up two unearned runs on three hits and two walks, and Tre Brown finished the game for the Oilers with two innings of scoreless ball, giving up two hits and two walks and whiffing two.
The Oilers took the first lead in the second inning on an RBI double by Mackay, but couldn’t hold it.
Mat-Su answered in the bottom of the third with a three-run homer by Spencer Henson, who entered the night averaging a .327 batting percentage. Henson notched a three-hit night against the Oilers on Tuesday, and finished Thursday 3 for 5 with four RBIs.
The Miners tacked on three more runs in the fourth, including a sacrifice fly from Drew Swift, a balk charged to pitcher Ryan Silva that plated a run, and an RBI single by Henson, putting Mat-Su up 6-1.
After going down 8-1, the Oilers attempted to rally in the top of the seventh with three runs. Paul Kunst scored on a throwing error and Leonhardt was brought home on a balk by Miners pitcher Sean Hughes. Koch also scored on a wild pitch by Hughes to cut the gap to 8-4.
The ninth-inning theatrics started with a leadoff walk to Koch and a single by Wood, who advanced on a throw to put two in scoring position with no outs.
That set up Berkey’s big two-RBI double.
Bryce Begell reached on error when shortstop Drew Swift mishandled a grounder, but he would be stranded to end the game.