Through dark stretches like the 1-8 July road trip in which every loss was by two runs or less, the Peninsula Oilers kept gamely coming back every evening and putting forth full effort only to absorb another torturous loss.
Despite the disappointments, Oilers coach Brian Green kept telling the team that one day their effort would finally pay off.
Although the season is quickly drawing to a close and the Oilers are near the bottom of the Alaska Baseball League standings, that day may be finally here.
Behind a sterling pitching performance from Juan Serrato, the Oilers defeated the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks 4-0 Thursday night at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai.
The team has now won two straight games for the first time since June 28 and 29. Serrato's nine-inning gem, which came with nine strikeouts and just five hits, marked the first time Peninsula has held an opponent without a run this season.
"It was a real long stretch," Green said of the dog days of July. "It was almost scary. We lost games the same way nine to 10 games in a row. You could have almost scripted the losses before they happened.
"I'm really proud of the team. They kept coming back, playing hard and didn't give up. Now, we're finally winning games because of it."
One of the team's biggest poster boys for trying hard through disappointment is Serrato. The freshman from Riverside Community College came into the game with a tidy ERA of 2.20, but with a disappointing record of 1-3.
"When he came up here, he was a one-pitch guy with his fastball, and he wasn't very good at locating it," Green said. "He really has gotten progressively better throughout the summer despite the tough-luck losses.
"He has three pitches now, and he has better location."
Serrato, who was drafted this year in the 13th round, said he has been working hard on his mechanics this summer. The right-hander works hard on his mechanics due to surgery he had on his throwing arm when he was a senior in high school.
"All my pitches were working tonight," said Serrato, who pitched what Green said was his best game of the year. "I was throwing my fastball for a strike, and I had my slider going.
"I even threw my changeup a couple of times and it worked pretty well."
Unlike some of his previous starts, Serrato also got a ton of help from his team both at the plate and in the field. The Oilers scored twice in the first and third innings in order to give Serrato breathing room.
A lot of that support came from first baseman Jamie D'Antona, who in the last week has finally fully gotten over the hyperextended left elbow he suffered early in the season. Will Bolt also had two RBIs.
D'Antona went 2-for-4 with two runs scored, and would have had an even bigger night if the bomb he hit in the bottom of the fifth inning hadn't hooked just foul. (Public address announcer Dennis Smith deadpanned of the blast, "That foul ball sponsored by, and went to, Kenai Joe's.")
"I've never hit a ball that far with the wood bat. I was thinking about doing that Boston thing while it was in the air," D'Antona said as he mimicked Carlton Fisk's body language during his legendary home run in the 1976 World Series.
The freshman from Wake Forest also turned in a couple of defensive gems in the top of the seventh inning. After Will Bolt made a diving stop on a hard grounder off the bat of Lance Dawkins, D'Antona showed Gumby-like flexibility in making the stretch to record the out at first. One fan went so far as to suggest D'Antona check his inseam after the play.
The very next play, Jason Lopez lofted a lazy fly in foul territory on the first base side. D'Antona ambled to the fence and stretched his arm out into the stands to make the play.
"It was lucky," D'Antona said. "I just stuck my glove out there hoping the ball would go in it."
Lucky? The Oilers? Such a quote would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago.
"We've been playing the same ball all year," D'Antona said. "We'd just be in close games and the other team would get bloop hits we could do nothing about.
"The ball wasn't bouncing our way. Maybe it's starting to bounce our way now."
The Oilers will look for a three-game sweep of the Panners tonight at 6 p.m. The game is Fan Appreciation Night and, thanks to the Oilers Booster Club, there will be no charge at the gate.
Green, whose team is now 12-20 in the ABL and 19-24 overall, said the Oilers cannot thank the community enough.
"No matter what's going on, we come to play here and everything out of the stands is positive," Green said. "What this community does for the Oilers is impressive."
After the series with the Panners, the Oilers will complete their season with the Anchorage Bucs Wood Bat Tournament. The team will play the Bucs Sunday at 7:45 p.m., the Pilots Monday at 5 p.m., the Panners Tuesday at 11:30 a.m., the Bay Area All-Stars Tuesday at 2:15 p.m. and the Miners Wednesday at 2:15 p.m.
OILERS 4, PANNERS 0
Panners AB R H BI Oilers AB R H BI
Perez cf 3 0 0 0 Horwitz cf 3 0 0 0
Cruz 2b 2 0 0 0 Teahen 2b 4 1 1 0
Tugwell ss 4 0 1 0 D'Antona 1b 4 2 1 0
Leathers dh 4 0 1 0 Simmons 3b 3 1 1 0
Keefener rf 4 0 1 0 Reynolds rf 3 0 1 1
Purdom lf 4 0 1 0 Bolt ss 3 0 1 2
Robinson 1b 4 0 1 0 Coleman lf 3 0 0 0
Dawkins 3b 2 0 0 0 Thiel dh 4 0 0 0
Lopez c 4 0 0 0 Kahoalii c 3 0 0 0
Totals 31 0 5 0 Totals 30 4 5 4
Fairbanks 000 000 000 -- 0
Peninsula 202 000 000 -- 0
E -- Cruz 2. DP -- Oilers 1. LOB -- Oilers 7, Goldpanners 9. 2B -- Bolt, Robinson. SF -- Bolt.
IP H R ER BB SO
Soppe, L 6 4 4 2 3 3
Basch 1 0 0 0 1 1
Dunwell 1 1 0 0 0 4
Serrato, W 9 5 0 0 4 9
WP -- Serrato. PB -- Lopez. T -- 2:15. A -- 300.
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