The runaway train known as the Peninsula Oilers didn’t lose any steam Thursday night at Coral Seymour Memorial Park, as the Alaska Baseball League’s top pitching staff was lights out in a two-hit gem.
The Oilers beat the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks 5-1 under threatening skies after an afternoon shower soaked the field an hour before first pitch.
The team continues to set the standard in the ABL with an 11-4 record, 3.5 games over the idle Mat-Su Miners (7-7). The Oilers have also won three straight, their third three-game win streak this summer.
After going 1-2 against Chugiak last week on the road, the Oilers have now beaten the Chinooks in two straight to kick-start a five-game homestand. The two teams face off again tonight at 7 p.m.
Mike Lopez pitched six shutout innings for the Oilers, whiffing six in a one-hit outing. Lopez retired eight of the last nine batters he faced before leaving after the sixth, and left with no walks issued to the Chinooks. Lopez has yet to give up an earned run over 17 innings this summer.
“Everyone just loves each other,” Lopez said when asked about the team chemistry. “We all trust each other and there’s a lot of team camaraderie involved.”
The right-hander out of Cal State San Marcos kept Chugiak’s batters off balance all night with an array of high-speed pitches that set the tone early in each at-bat.
“I was able to locate my fastball, start with that and slowly progress to my offspeed stuff,” Lopez said. “I like to work in and out of the zone, and executing my fastball helped. I try to catch them on their heels.”
The league-leading Oilers pitching staff has so far worked a 2.42 ERA, while the Anchorage Bucs sit second as a team at a 2.64 ERA. The Miners, Chinooks and the Anchorage Glacier Pilots all have worked 3.04 or higher.
“We just stick to a routine,” said pitching coach Ryan Doran. “Our guys show up to the ballpark each day and prepare the same way, we keep everything on the same schedule so they know exactly what to expect to make them comfortable.”
Sitka product Erickson Fish gave up the Chinooks’ lone run of the night in relief in the seventh inning, but left with one walk and one hit and one strikeout. Tre Brown and Bret Ricklefs combined to finish the final two frames with scoreless, hitless relief. Each finished with a strikeout.
The Oilers also provided some timely offense. Grant Wood knocked in two big runs on a line drive double to the left field warning track with the bases loaded in the fifth inning to push the lead to 5-0.
“We capitalize on teams mistakes, and it’s a snowball effect,” Doran said.
Wood and Paul Kunst both finished the night 2 for 4, while Ryan Koch, John Mackay, Brian Leonhardt and Tyler Duke each had a base hit. Koch also reached twice on walks.
One night earlier, the Oilers were able to score six runs in one inning en route to a 9-1 win.
“A lot of times we put up a five-spot instead of one,” Doran said.
Anthony Becerra took the loss on the mound for the Chinooks. Becerra started strong by retiring six of the first eight Peninsula batters via the strikeout, but ran into trouble in the third and fifth innings after loading the bases. Becerra whiffed eight and walked two, but gave up three earned runs on seven hits.
Cole Whitman finished the final four innings in relief and whiffed six while giving up just one hit in scoreless play.
The runs didn’t come immediately, but the Oilers found a way to strike the second time through the order.
A rundown between first and second bases led to the first run of the night in the second inning, as Wood came in to score as Bryan Leonhardt was caught out at second.
Then, in the bottom of the third, Tyler Duke scored when Ryan Novis laced a grounder back to Becerra, whose throw missed the glove of second baseman Thomas Harper and dropped into the outfield, bringing in a run for a 2-0 lead.
The Oilers loaded the bases with one out, allowing John Mackay to bloop a two-out single into right field for a 3-0 lead before the inning ended.
The Oilers again juiced the bags in the bottom of the fifth on a single, error and a walk with no outs. This time, Wood cranked a two-RBI double to the left field warning track to put the Oilers up 5-0 and chase away Becerra.
The Chinooks threatened in the top of the seventh by loading the bases with one out, and finally broke the shutout on a fielders choice grounder by Jerron Largusa. Seth Ballenger ended the threat on a ground-out, leaving two on.