Sometimes, a struggling team just needs a little confidence boost to send them in the right direction.
The Peninsula Oilers looked to be getting that boost after a 2-1 win Friday night over the Mat-Su Miners at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai.
However, the Miners showed why they are the three-time defending Alaska Baseball League champions, returning Saturday to sweep the Oilers in a doubleheader with scores of 4-2 and 4-0.
The Oilers (10-19) have taken two of five thus far in this six-game home series with the Miners (18-10) to fall nine games behind the ABL-leading Anchorage Bucs (18-9).
Friday’s victory was the third win in four games for the Oilers, which held Mat-Su to a single run on just four base hits with stellar pitching and even better defensive play.
El Cajon, California, right-hander Jake Fenn pitched a one-run game over six innings of dominant work, striking out four while walking one for the Oilers, leaving head coach Kyle Brown singing his praises.
“Mister Fenn and starting pitching was absolutely dominant tonight,” Brown said. “Hats off to him, he set the tone from inning one, and carried it throughout the night.”
The dominant pitching extended to the bullpen as well, as Giancarlo Servin and Calvin Farris combined for three innings of scoreless, one-hit baseball. Brown said after putting the right-handed Farris in for the eighth, Farris wanted more.
“He basically told me he wants the ball in the ninth,” Brown said. “So we give him the ball in the ninth. When a kid comes in and says he wants the ball, he’s going to keep the ball.”
By making quick work of the Miners that helped contribute to a speedy game — the last out came just 2 hours, 5 minutes, after first pitch — the feel of confidence flowed from Fenn to Servin to Farris. After Friday’s game, Farris has given up just two runs over 16 innings of pitching, contributing to a 1.10 ERA and a 21-3 strikeout to walk ratio, among the best in the league.
Fenn said his fastball powered through the Miners lineup early on, and he later resorted to his changeup and breaking ball to keep Mat-Su off balance.
“Pretty much everything was working,” Fenn said, adding that he was happy to pitch well after a tough loss on Thursday. “It’s a building game, hope we keep it going the rest of the season.
Brown also praised the defensive work of the Oilers infield, including third baseman Bobby Goodloe, shortstop Skyler Messinger and catcher John Mackay for calling a great game behind the plate.
“(Messinger) looked like a freaking big-leaguer with that barehand (throw) up the middle,” Brown said. “Couldn’t ask for better defense.”
The bats came through with two runs in the sixth inning to provide just enough offense for the pitching. Paul Steffensen took off from first base on a ground ball by Victor Carlino, who reached on error when Mat-Su’s Drew Williamson raced to field Carlino’s chopper. That allowed Steffensen to go for third, and when the throw by Miners’ pitcher Brandon Birdsell to catch him sailed wide, Steffensen raced home to tie the game.
Later in the inning, Bobby Goodloe knocked in the go-ahead run on an RBI single, but was caught trying to leg out a double.
After taking a 2-1 lead, the defense worked its magic to preserve it, including a spectacular diving catch in centerfield by Steffensen for the second out in the top of the seventh, and a wide stretch at first by Connor McCord on a grounder in the eighth to record the second out of that frame.
The Miners scored their lone run in the top of the second on an RBI double by Tanner Carlson.
Brown felt the recent spate of progress has him feeling good for the month of July.
“The past six games, we’re playing better baseball,” Brown said. “We’re getting better, we’re working up to really hitting a stride.”
In Saturday’s twin bill opener, the Miners won 4-2 thanks to a pair of home runs in the top of the fifth from Justin Kirby and Erik Webb. The solo shots left Mat-Su with a comfortable 4-1 lead, which was enough to hold off the Oilers.
Mat-Su starter George Arias held the Oilers to two runs on five hits over five innings of work, striking out two and walking three. Jacob McNairy came on to nail down his ABL-leading seventh save of the summer.
Jake Adams took the hard-luck loss for the Oilers, giving up two runs (one earned) on four hits and three walks over four innings, while whiffing two. Jacob Reed finished the last three frames in relief with two runs given up on four hits and one walk.
Goodloe and Travis Bohall both hit 2 for 4 to lead the Oilers, which cut the Miners’ lead to 2-1 in the fourth on a sac fly by Camden Vasquez.
However, the Miners punched back with the two solo homers.
In game two Saturday, Blake Peyton had a no-hitter going before being pulled after four innings of work for the Miners. Peyton struck out four and walked two before relinquishing the mound after 59 pitches thrown.
Wasilla product Nolan Monaghan finished off the win with three shutout innings of relief, whiffing three and giving up two hits to complete the pitching masterpiece.
Peninsula’s only two base hits came courtesy of Bohall, who went 2 for 3 on the day.