Leave it to five days of rest to kickstart the Peninsula Oilers offense.
After three scheduled rest days were preceded by two days of rainouts, the Oilers finally resumed their 2018 season with a Thursday doubleheader split against the Anchorage Glacier Pilots, winning the first game 7-4 and losing the nightcap 5-0.
The split also means the Oilers will be playing on the road in the Alaska Baseball League postseason, which begins next week. The Anchorage Bucs (24-18) secured home field advantage at least through the first round of the ABL playoffs, being second in the standings, 1 1/2 games behind the Mat-Su Miners (26-17). The Bucs defeated the Miners Thursday 12-0.
The Oilers (20-20) are 4 1/2 games behind the Miners and three behind the Bucs, and could finish the season tied with the Bucs in the standings, but Anchorage would get the tiebreaker due to a 6-5 season series advantage over the Oilers.
Thursday’s opener was dominated by Oilers’ designated hitter Ryan Koch, who blasted the Pilots with two home runs, the second a fifth-inning grand slam that put the Oilers ahead for good. Koch, tied for the league lead in homers, finished the day 2 for 2 with a staggering six RBIs, adding to his summer total of 27, third in the ABL.
“It’s funny, we sat him down and asked him about his approach tonight,” said Oilers head coach Kyle Brown. “He was about hitting it hard and getting line drives, and just maintaing that same approach.”
Brown said with five days off before Thursday, the Oilers coaching staff made sure to keep the team fresh while they waited out the rains.
“It’s tough because it throws off hitters timing, we’re not seeing balls and it’s hard to stay in a rhythm,” Brown said. “It’s tough seeing these lulls.”
Brown added that the break also allowed players to relax at home following a miserable road trip in which the Oilers went 3-5, including a three-game losing streak that dropped the team to third in the ABL standings.
“Obviously we want to get above .500 and keep our heads above water,” he said. “It was important for the guys to get home to their host families and get away for a while.”
The Oilers and Pilots will finish the regular season with doubleheaders today at 4 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m.
In Thursday’s opener, the Pilots scored a run each in the third, fourth and fifth innings to take a 3-0 lead, including a solo homer by Ryon Knowles off Oilers starter Noah Owen.
Koch got the comeback started in the bottom of the fourth by raking his first homer of the day, a two-run shot with two outs, and Ryan Novis tied it up with an RBI triple.
The two-out Oilers rally in the bottom of the fifth began with three straight walks issued to Zack Zalesky, Chad Bible and Grant Wood by Pilots starting pitcher Zecheriah Jarrard, loading the bases for Koch to make something happen.
Koch delivered with a towering shot to break the 3-all tie.
Owen finished with 3 2/3 innings pitched for the Oilers, giving up two earned runs on four hits and two walks, while whiffing four. Ryan Silva finished the day in relief with 3 1/3 one-run frames, giving up three hits and a walk with four strikeouts.
In game two, the Pilots broke it open late with four runs in the seventh, all after an Oilers double play put two outs on the board.
Elliott Curtis reached base following an error by Oilers shortstop Paul Kunst on a grounder, a mistake that could’ve ended the inning if avoided. Breydon Daniel capitalized with a two-run single to tack on insurance runs.
Another Kunst error on the next batter set up a two-run double by Zach Presno to make it a five-run lead.
Presno batted in the first run of the game in the top of the sixth with a double, finishing 2 for 4 on the day.
The Oilers only managed four hits as a team, led by John Mackay’s 2 for 3 day.
The late runs also spoiled another sterling pitching performance by Oilers starter Mike Lopez, who struck out seven in a six-inning start with just one unearned run on five hits. Lopez lowered his ERA to a dazzling 0.81, second in the league among pitchers with 30 or more innings pitched.
Tre Brown took over in relief and gave up four runs (none earned) in 2/3 innings, and Erickson Fish capped it with the final out in relief.