Back on the same mound where he dealt gem after gem, Joey Becher put on another show for the hometown fans Saturday night at Coral Seymour Memorial Ballpark.
Becher pitched the Peninsula Oilers — his new team — past the Anchorage Glacier Pilots in a 9-1 Alaska Baseball League victory, earning his first ABL win with a one-run performance in five innings. Becher scattered five hits and struck out one batter, but more importantly did not issue a single walk.
In a postgame interview on 1140 AM, Becher admitted to a few early nerves.
“I was pretty nervous, playing in front of the hometown fans, seeing all my friends and family,” Becher said. “I just tried to stick to the gameplan. That’s all I tried to do.”
The Oilers jumped to 5-11 overall this year, last in the league and six games behind the leading Mat-Su Miners (10-4). The Glacier Pilots dropped to 7-8, good for fourth in the standings.
The outing was the second of the summer for Becher, who tossed 3 2-3 innings against the Chugiak Chinooks on June 18, but Saturday was the first home showing for the 2016 SoHi grad.
In his days as the local ace for the Soldotna High School and American Legion Twins squads, Becher dominated en route to three career no-hitters and a 2016 championship with the Twins.
Saturday in Kenai, Becher certainly got help from his new teammates. The Oilers blasted the Pilots with 15 base hits, led by designated hitter Kellen Strahm’s 3-for-4 day with three RBIs.
Caleb Hicks and Nathan Webb also each connected on their first home runs of the summer for the Oilers, who scored in every inning except the second.
On the mound, the right-handed Becher used a mix of his slider and curveball to keep the Pilots off balance, getting through five frames in 72 pitches.
However, Becher, who plays for Treasure Valley Community College (Oregon), said he still sees areas to improve.
“My command has to be a lot better,” he said. “I can’t be one dimensional like tonight.”
Becher was also able to get out of a couple of jams, including his final pitch of the night in the top of the fifth when a Pilots base hit that landed in left field was returned to home plate by Hicks for the final out of the inning.
“I had the best defense out there,” Becher said. “They caught everything and fielded everything.”
Hicks delivered a solo shot in the bottom of the fourth to put the Oilers up 3-0, and Webb notched a leadoff bomb in the next inning to push the lead to 5-1. From there, the Oilers tacked on one run in the sixth and seventh innings and two in the eighth.
John Thomas, Jeremy Conant and Thomas Ruddy each had two hits apiece for the Oilers.
Josh Congdon, Billy Clemens and Jonathan Vizcaino combined to pitch four scoreless innings of relief for the Oilers. Clemens and Vizcaino both faced the minimum in one perfect inning apiece.
Friday, the Glacier Pilots used tough pitching to blank the Oilers 7-0.
After rolling to a 5-1 Alaska Baseball League win over the Pilots on Thursday, the Oilers failed to plate a run against their northern rivals, which pelted Peninsula with 11 base hits of their own.
“That’ll happen once in a while,” said Oilers head coach Jim Dietz. “It kind of got out of control in the third or fourth innings and they came at us.”
Dietz credited Anchorage starting pitcher Kyle Tyler for tossing a strong game. The right-hander out of Oklahoma pitched a five-inning gem with eight strikeouts while giving up just two base hits.
“Last night we had the good pitching,” Dietz said. “Tonight was just so-so.”
Preston Plovanich started for the Oilers and lasted four innings before making his exit. Plovanich gave up five runs on eight hits and two walks, and struck out six. The Oilers southpaw from Santa Fe, New Mexico, saw the minimum number of batters through two innings, but a leadoff double by Anchorage’s Cuba Bess to start the third eventually led to the Pilots cracking Plovanich. Bess finished with two hits and two runs, while Samuel Blair and Michael Tipler each had two hits as well for the Pilots.
Oliver Dunn led the Oilers by hitting 2 for 4, but the team could only muster up six hits total. Once behind, Dietz said he tried to play every available member of the team in order to get each guy experience, which explains the six pinch hitters.
“They came all this way to play, so let them play,” he said. “I used everybody I had available.”
Peninsula’s Tyler Waldrop entered in relief in the sixth and retired the first six batters before struggling in the eighth and ninth frames. Waldrop gave up a pair of unearned runs on three hits and two walks, while striking out two. Billy Clemens finished the final out on one pitch in the top of the ninth, a pop fly.
Bess’s leadoff double in the top of the third ultimately led to the first runs of the night when Ian Evans delivered a two-run, bases-loaded single to right field.
Anchorage loaded the bases again in the fourth on consecutive two-out hits by Bess and Blair and a walk by Chris McCready, and Andre Gregory brought in another two runs on a single to center field, putting the Pilots up 4-0.
A single by Malcolm Tipler scored another run for the Pilots but Gregory was tagged out at third to end the frame.
Anchorage tacked on another run in the top of the eighth on an Oilers throwing error to first. A leadoff hit-by-pitch to Carter Bins eventually scored when Bess hit into what appeared to be a routine ground-out, but third baseman Jonathan Vizcaino missed his mark on the throw to first, forcing Hicks to leave his base and allowing Bins to score.
The Oilers caught a break in the bottom of the eighth when Dunn reached on an infield single that was made possible by a collision between relief pitcher Tyler Wilburn and third baseman Sam Fragale. The incident shook up Wilburn, who took a few test pitches before continuing, but the Oilers scoring threat was ended on a ground-out by pinch hitter Jeremy Conant.