The Peninsula Oilers ended the regular season with a 7-1 loss to the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks on Sunday in Alaska Baseball League play at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai.
The Oilers will continue their season Tuesday in the first round of the Top of the World Series playoffs, while the Chinooks are done.
Peninsula, the No. 4 seed in the playoffs, will travel to play either the Anchorage Glacier Pilots or the Mat-Su Miners on Tuesday, because the top spot has yet to be decided.
The Pilots swept a doubleheader from the Bucs on Sunday to move into first place in the league at 22-16, with the Miners (21-16) just a half game out at 21-16. The Miners and Pilots play a doubleheader Monday to determine the top seed.
The Bucs (21-19) finish third and are two games back, the Oilers (18-20) finish fourth and are four games back and the Chinooks (14-25) finish fifth and are 8.5 games back.
With the Oilers’ position in the playoffs locked in before the game, Sunday had a laid-back feel. Oilers fans sat back and enjoyed the brilliant green of the field and intermittent sunshine for the last time in a season marked by so much cold and rain.
“Obviously, this game didn’t mean much,” Oilers’ Michael Elko said. “You still want to go out and get a win, because, ‘Why not?’ But they scored early.
“And then it was kind of just have fun. It was the last game in Kenai and we had a really good environment today. So we just tried to have fun on the field together one last time.”
With just 15 players left — nine position players and six pitchers — the Oilers turned to position players on the mound Sunday to conserve arms for the playoffs.
“These guys have done a great job here with the 15 kids to finish the season,” Oilers head coach Larry McCann said after finishing his fourth year with the Oilers and third as head coach. “I’m proud of these guys for what they did.
“This is one of the best teams I’ve had since I’ve been here. They grinded it out. There was a lot of adversity thrown their way at the end of the season and these guys stepped up.”
Ty Thomas, who had not thrown more than two innings all season, got the start and went five innings giving up four runs — two earned — on seven hits while walking one and striking out one.
Nick Costello, another position player, went two innings and gave up three runs — two earned — on four hits while walking two. Costello, a lefty, actually switched to throwing with his right hand in his second inning of work to avoid straining his throwing arm.
McCann said he had no idea Costello could throw with both arms until somebody told him before the game.
Theo Forshey, another pure position player, threw the final two innings, giving up no runs and no hits while walking one and striking out two.
The big story on the mound was wearing a Chinooks jersey. Garrett DeClue threw a complete game, giving up a run on six hits while walking one and striking out four.
McCann said the effort concludes DeClue’s career. He was a graduate student this past season at University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky. He finished by throwing 121 pitches.
The Oilers player to have the most success with DeClue was Elko, who finished 3 for 4.
“The guy’s pretty good,” Elko said of DeClue. “It was actually the last start of his whole career, so he stayed out there and finished the game.
“I faced him — this is the third game now — so I just kind of had him down a little bit and just tried to catch fastballs out in front. I had a good approach today and it worked out.”
Elko said he has had an incredible summer on the Kenai Peninsula. He said he’s caught a ton of fish, seen moose and bears, and did an ATV trip with his family when they visited.
He also said he’s developed a special bond with his teammates.
“I’m really close with a lot of them,” he said. “It’s a good group. Some guys got hurt, some pitchers reached their inning limits so they left.
“But we’ve been sticking it out.”
Peyton Niemann was 3 for 5 for the Chinooks, while Tommy Rover was 2 for 4 with two runs, Ryan Callahan was 2 for 5, Logan Mantz had two runs and Brayden Broome had two RBIs.
McCann said being so short on arms will make the playoffs tough. He said Ryne Palmer, 1-2 with a 5.80 ERA, will start the Tuesday game.
Evan Langer will most likely pitch the second game.