The Peninsula Oilers scored a dramatic run in the ninth to tie their game with the visiting Anchorage Bucs, but errors cost the home team in the 11th inning as the Bucs grabbed a 6-3 win in Alaska Baseball League play at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai.
The Oilers drop to 19-11 in league play, though they are still in first place. The Bucs improve to 18-14 in the league, two games behind the Oilers and still in the hunt for one of the two league berths in the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kans., next month.
"We're in first place, and we've got everything ahead of us. Everybody else is trying to catch us," Oilers head coach Aric Thomas said of the team's outlook as it prepares for a four-game road trip to Fairbanks to play the Alaska Goldpanners, who also are in the hunt for an NBC berth.
"It's good when you don't have to scoreboard watch. I'm excited about the opportunity. We're going to take the bull by the horns."
On Saturday, the Oilers were wrangling the Bucs, though, and after falling behind 3-2, Rocky Laguna led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a single to center field off Anchorage closer Jon Wilson.
Patrick Rooney put down a sacrifice bunt to move Laguna to second, and David Newby singled to right field. Laguna never hesitated rounding third, and slid to the outside of the plate, reaching out with his hand to tag home and avoid the tag of catcher Tuffy Gosewisch to score the tying run.
The Oilers carried that momentum into the top of the 10th inning. After a two-out single, a stolen base and a throwing error by Oilers catcher Joey Hendricks allowed Brandon Roberts to reach third, Chris Minaker made a spectacular diving stop at shortstop, and an even more amazing throw to first to get Travis Becktel to end the inning.
The magic ran out after that, though, as Wilson retired the Oilers in order in the bottom of the 10th, and Peninsula errors led to three runs for the Bucs in the top of the 11th.
Rooney hit a two-out single off Wilson in the bottom of the 11th, but the Oilers couldn't mount a rally.
"It's a tough loss, but I look at the positives," Thomas said. "Just the determination ... the heart and drive these players have is unbelievable."
Thomas pointed to Laguna's at-bat to lead off the ninth in which he fouled off several pitches before putting the ball in play, and Rooney's at-bat in the bottom of the 11th in which he did the same. He said his squad got the bunts down and executed the hit-and-run plays when it needed to, and credited David Newby with a pair of clutch hits: his game-tying RBI double in the fourth inning, and his game-tying RBI single in the ninth.
Wilson picked up the win for the Bucs while Eric Butkiewicz was saddled with the loss. Butkiewicz pitched three innings, allowing three unearned runs on two hits while striking out one and not issuing a walk.
Steven Wright started the game for the Oilers, going six innings and giving up three runs, two of them earned, on six hits, striking out two and walking two. Oscar Serrato pitched two scoreless innings of relief, giving up three hits and striking out one without issuing a walk.
The Oilers scored their first run of the ballgame in the first inning when Minaker singled to drive in Robert Perry, who had drawn a leadoff walk.
Laguna scored on Newby's two-out double in the fourth, and Rooney was thrown out at the plate on the play to end the inning.
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