The Peninsula Oilers advanced to the finals of the National Baseball Congress World Series with an 11-6 victory over the Nevada (Mo.) Griffons on Friday at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in Wichita, Kan.
The Oilers now must beat the Santa Barbara (Calif.) Foresters twice Saturday to earn Peninsula's fourth national title. The first game starts at 3 p.m. ADT and can be heard on 1140 AM. If the Oilers force the second game with a win, that game will start 30 minutes after the first game concludes.
"We're 18 innings away from being a national champion," Oilers head coach Dennis Machado said via cell phone following the game. "It still seems to me like it's a very long way away.
"Anytime you're able to play for a national championship, it's a special occasion. I couldn't be prouder of the way the guys have played and represented Kenai and the Peninsula Oilers."
The Oilers reached their sixth NBC final and first since 1999, moving them into sole possession of fifth place in all-time NBC finals appearances. Peninsula will try and become the first Alaska Baseball League team to win the NBC since the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks won in 2002. The league is on its longest title drought since the Anchorage Glacier Pilots won the an Alaska team's first title in 1969.
Machado, who lost in the NBC final as head coach of the Anchorage Glacier Pilots in 2009 but won a title as a player with the Oilers in 1994, said at the beginning of the season he was building this team to win an ABL title, then an NBC title. After running away with the ABL title late in the season, the Oilers are a doubleheader sweep away from the second goal.
The Foresters, looking for their third NBC title, handed the Oilers their lone loss of the tournament in coming through the tournament with a perfect record thus far. With the Pilots in 2009, Machado also went into the title game needing to win twice. Anchorage lost the first game.
"It's the same situation. It's about as uphill a battle as you can fight," he said.
Machado built the team with an offense that could compete in the heavy hitting contests the NBC can produce, and Friday that offense came through in a game that featured 24 hits - 13 by the Oilers and 11 by the Griffons.
"The guys swung the bats pretty well," Machado said. "We needed every one they could push across today."
Tanner Rust led the Oilers, who put their leadoff batter on base all nine innings, by going 3 for 3, reaching base all five times, scoring three times and collecting both of his RBIs on a first-inning home run. Chris Mallory had two hits, Stephen Branca had two hits and two runs, and Nate Ring added two hits. Mike Miller reached base four times, scored twice and stole four bases.
On the mound, the Oilers bullpen came through after a shaky start from Ben Griset. Griset lasted just two innings and gave up six hits and three runs - two earned. J.D. Salles sparkled in long relief by pitching three innings and giving up three hits and three runs - just one of which was earned.
Mark Winkelman, Reese McGraw, Conner Kendrick and Hunter Lemke then combined to shut out the Griffons over the final four innings.
"That Nevada team is probably one of the best offensive teams in the tournament," Machado said. "To be able to reel off five zeros against that offense is quite the accomplishment."
Both teams committed three errors. The Oilers, who had just two errors in the NBC coming into the game, yielded three unearned runs. The Griffons gave up six unearned runs.
"Those things happen and you have to be able to pitch around those things," Machado said.
Machado spoke as he was getting ready to meet with coaches about what to do about pitching Saturday. Gabriel Asakura was a candidate to start, but a sore back means he won't be starting. The head coach said he doesn't know who is starting Game 1 or a possible Game 2.
Starter Jon Maciel pitched 3 2-3 innings against the Foresters on Tuesday and gave up four runs in the 6-4 loss. Starter Jordan Mills just pitched Thursday and will only be available for an inning, if that.
"What's going to be key is our pitching is going to have to hold them down enough for our offense to win it for us," Machado said.
Oilers 11, Griffons 6
Oilers AB R H BI Griffons AB R H BI
Millr ss 5 2 1 1 Wlsn cf 4 2 2 2
Mllry 2b 5 1 2 1 Wllms ss 5 1 1 0
Wsdm 3b 4 0 0 2 Smlsn 3b 5 0 1 1
Chng 1b 4 1 1 0 Krst 1b 4 0 1 1
Rust rf 3 3 3 2 Strk lf 5 0 3 0
Branca dh 4 2 2 0 Davis c 4 0 0 0
MChsny c 4 1 1 0 Hpwrth dh 4 1 1 0
Cllns lf 5 1 1 2 Wtsn 2b 4 1 0 0
Ring cf 5 0 2 1 Strch rf 3 1 2 0
Totals 39 11 13 9 Totals 38 6 11 4
Peninsula 300 600 002 -11
Nevada 120 300 000 -6
E - Wisdom, Salles, Miller, Stark, Krist, Williams. LOB - Oilers 9, Griffons 8. DP - Griffons 3. 2B - Miller, Collins, Wilson 2, Williams. 3B - Mallory. HR - Rust. SB - Miller 4. CS - Rust. S - McChesney, Sostavich. SF - Wisdom.
IP H R ER BB SO
Griset 2 6 3 2 1 1
Sallesm, W 3 3 3 1 1 2
Winkelman 1 2-3 2 0 0 0 0
McGraw 1 1-3 0 0 0 0 1
Kendrick 1-3 0 0 0 0 0
Lemke 2-3 0 0 0 0 2
Klock, L 3 1-3 5 8 2 2 2
Zenoni 2 2-3 6 1 1 1 1
Fitzpatrick 1 0 0 0 2 0
Juliano 1 2-3 2 2 2 2 2
Buell 1-3 0 0 0 0 0
WP - Griset.