A gutsy effort by the Peninsula Oilers pitchers was not enough to overcome a dominant game by a pair of Santa Barbara (Calif.) Foresters hurlers Saturday in the championship game of the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan.
The Foresters rode the arms of Mitch Mormann and Spenser Messmore to a 1-0 victory and their third NBC title in the last five years. Santa Barbara finished the tournament undefeated and handed Peninsula its only other loss at the NBC.
Oilers head coach Dennis Machado also lost in a finals appearance with the Anchorage Glacier Pilots in 2009. Machado won an NBC crown as a player in 1994.
"It's crushing," Machado said. "You put in a year's worth of work into this roster and into this team and you grind out an Alaska Baseball League season. To come up one run short from being the last team standing, it's tough."
Santa Barbara is now 3 for 5 in finals appearances, while the Oilers are 3 for 6. Peninsula's six finals appearances put the Oilers alone in fifth place on the all-time list.
"What I told the guys after the game is I'm extremely proud of the way they played," Machado said of the ABL champion Oilers. "They threw it out there every single night for this tournament and represented the Oilers extremely well.
"It's going to be fun to watch these guys in the future as they continue to develop."
The last team from the Alaska Baseball League to win an NBC crown is the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks in 2002. Alaska teams continue their longest title drought since the Anchorage Glacier Pilots won the state's first NBC championship in 1969.
After a long season and long tournament, the Oilers (36-17 overall) did not have a starting pitcher left to use in the championship game. Gabriel Asakura was a candidate to get the start, but he had a sore back.
Oilers head coach Dennis Machado decided to use eight different pitchers for one inning each and all those pitchers came through, allowing just one run four hits.
"We asked them to go out and get three of the best outs they could," Machado said. "They did that."
Santa Barbara's lone run came in the first inning off of starter and loser Jordan Mills, who took the ball on just two days rest.
Brett Vertigan led off with a single that just got over the head of Mills. Jeff McNeil followed with an infield hit and Vertigan went to third on an error by Mills.
Vertigan would then score on a ground ball by Jeff McVaney.
That would be all the Foresters pitchers would need. Mormann, who was drafted in the 25th round this year by the Detroit Tigers, pitched seven innings and gave up just four hits.
"Their guy was pretty tough," Machado said. "He threw 93 to 97. You tip your cap to him."
The Oilers' best shot at starter and winner Mormann came in the seventh, when Patrick Wisdom led off with a single and Troy Channing followed by getting hit by a pitch.
Tanner Rust then put runners on first and third with one out with a fielder's choice.
Stephen Branca then lined out to first, and Rust did not have a chance to get back to the bag on the inning-ending double play. Machado said Branca's liner was absolutely crushed.
"That's baseball," Machado said. "Those things happen, and we weren't able to overcome them."
The Oilers again tried to rally in the eighth. Ryan McChesney led off with a single, chasing Mormann in favor of Messmore. Messmore pitches for California State, Bakerfield, where Machado is a pitching coach.
Messmore will be a senior for Machado this year, but the coach had no trouble picking sides Saturday.
"He did that to us in the first game too - he got them out of a jam," Machado said. "He's a competitor. I've seen him for three years. He did a great job, but I was actually hoping we were going to crush him tonight."
Boomer Collins greeted Messmore with a line drive to right field, but Joe Wallace made a diving catch.
Nate Ring flew out and Mike Miller grounded out to end the inning.
Messmore then quickly set down the meat of the Oilers' order - Chris Mallory, Wisdom and Channing - to clinch the title.
Tyler Blum, J.D. Salles, Mark Winkelman, Cameron McVey, Reese McGraw, James Mannara and Conner Kendrick all pitched scoreless innings for the Oilers.
Machado, a graduate of Kenai Central High School, said he has talked to the Oilers about coming back next summer for a third season as head coach, but nothing is firmed up.
"It's been an absolute joy for me to be able to coach the Oilers, having grown up in Kenai and graduating from Kenai high school. Having watched and played on the Oilers, it's probably one of the best jobs I could have.
"It's been a tremendous experience and hopefully the fans in Kenai are happy with the way our guys played."
On Friday, the Oilers advanced to the championship game by defeating the Nevada (Mo.) Griffons 11-6 at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
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."
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.
Mallory had two hits, Branca had two hits and two runs, and Ring added two hits. 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. Salles sparkled in long relief by pitching three innings and giving up three hits and three runs - just one of which was earned.
Winkelman, McGraw, 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.
Rust gave the Oilers a defensive boost when the right fielder helped gun down Austin Williams when he tried to stretch a leadoff double to a triple to start the sixth inning.
Rust hit Miller with the cutoff throw, and the shortstop threw a strike to Wisdom at third. The Oilers had a 9-6 lead at the time.
The Oilers jumped on Griffons starter and loser Joel Klock in the top of the first when Miller reached second on a misplayed fly ball, stole third and scored on a grounder by Patrick Wisdom. After Channing walked, Rust cracked his home run.
The Griffons served notice that would not be enough by scoring one run in the first and two in the second to tie the game.
The Oilers put together the six-run, game-turning rally in the fourth. After Rust walked and Branca singled, McChesney loaded the bases when he reached on an error.
Collins then doubled to score two runs.
After Ring struck out, Miller made it 7-3 when the shortstop couldn't handle the hard-hit ball and Miller ended up on third due to the error. Miller would score on a triple by Mallory, and Wisdom made it 9-3 with a sacrifice fly. Just two runs in the inning were earned.
Errors by Salles and Miller helped the Griffons cut the lead to 9-6 in the bottom of the fourth with two unearned runs and an earned run.
The Oilers added insurance in the ninth on RBI singles by Ring and Miller.