On a night that began with hitters bludgeoning pitchers for a scene that looked like a combination of batting practice and slow-pitch softball, a crew of four run-stingy relievers actually sustained the Peninsula Oilers.
And now the Alaska Baseball League champions get a shot at the club's fourth championship in the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan.
The Oilers scored three runs in the first inning and six in the fourth Friday night to generate an 11-6 victory over the Nevada (Mo.) Griffons at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Victory advanced the Oilers (5-1) into today's championship game against the Santa Barbara Foresters (6-0) at 3 p.m. ADT. To capture the title as champions of amateur summer baseball in the 32-team, double-elimination tournament, the Oilers must beat the Foresters in that game and then beat them again in another game tonight.
Santa Barbara knocked Peninsula into the loser's bracket with a 6-4 win Tuesday. The Giffons, runners-up in 1998 and 1997, when they fell to the ABL's Mat-Su Miners, finished in third place.
The Oilers have won three NBC titles -- 1994, 1993 and 1977 -- and will make their sixth appearance in the championship game. The Foresters have seized two titles -- 2008 and 2006 -- and will make their fifth appearance in the championship game, all in the last nine tournaments.
Peninsula relievers Mark Winkelman, Reese McGraw, Conner Kendrick and Hunter Lemke combined to pitch the last four innings and surrendered just two hits and no runs, and struck out three.
That stifling pitching proved a startling turnaround in a game Peninsula led 9-6 after four innings.
The game did not feature a traditional 1-2-3 inning until McGraw set down the Foresters in order in the eighth. Kendrick came in to dispatch the first hitter in the ninth and Lemke struck out the last two Santa Barbara batters.
Oilers manager Dennis Machado used six pitchers Friday, mindful that the Oilers hope to require enough arms to get through two games today.
The Oilers generated so much offense Friday -- they banged 13 hits, walked seven times and took advantage of three errors -- that their leadoff hitter reached base in all nine innings of a game delayed 20 minutes by nearby lightning in the top of the seventh inning.
Peninsula right fielder Tanner Rust led the charge by going 3 for 3 with three runs scored, a two-run home run in the first inning and two walks. He also started a play in which the Oilers gunned down a Forester at third base.
Oilers shortstop Mike Miller, the ABL's Player of the Year, went 1 for 4, reached base four times, scored two runs, drove in two runs to give him a tournament-leading 12 RBIs and stole four bases. Miller, who is hitting .292 in Wichita, leads the tournament with five stolen bases.
Boomer Collins and Patrick Wisdom each drove in two runs for the Oilers, and every Oilers hitter either scored a run or drove in a run. Stephen Branca furnished two hits and two runs, and is tied for the tournament lead with eight runs scored.
As a team, the Oilers rank second in the tournament in batting average (.327), and rank first in one-base percentage (.437) and slugging percentage (.462).
Anchorage Daily News