The result of Thursday night's Alaska Baseball League contest between the Anchorage Bucs and Peninsula Oilers was left hanging in the balance when a heavy curtain of rain hampered play after six innings, resulting in the game being suspended until 5 p.m. today when the Bucs will resume their dominating 9-1 performance at Coral Seymour Memorial Park.
One thing that is for certain, however, is the Mat-Su Miners are the 2009 ABL champions for the first time since 2004.
Sitting three games back entering play on Thursday, the Bucs' possible win over the Oilers was rendered meaningless when the Miners blanked the Anchorage Glacier Pilots 10-0 in sealing the league crown with a 28-14 record. The Bucs (24-17), who like the Miners have three games remaining in addition to the continuation of Thursday's game, own a 3-5 mark against Mat-Su this summer with one more game to play in a series that could settle a tie should the Bucs win out.
"We had our opportunity," said first-year Bucs coach Thom Dreier. "The last two times we played them, that was our shot to get back. ... We had our chance to get back in it and take a lead and we blew it.
"Second place, if we can hang onto that -- I think the Pilots are a couple games behind us --if we can hang onto second, obviously it's not what you play for, but we'll take it," he added. "We're OK with that."
The Oilers' regularly scheduled game against the Bucs at 6 p.m. today, the home finale for Peninsula (17-25), is now slated to begin 30 minutes after the first contest concludes.
With just three innings remaining in Thursday's contest and an eight-run deficit to overcome, Oilers skipper Jeff Walker didn't sound overly optimistic.
"We've still got three innings to play," he said.
The Oilers had a golden opportunity to take command of the game off Anchorage starter Chris Matulis, who surrendered five hits -- three in the sixth and final inning -- and two walks with five strikeouts.
Matulis beaned Garry Kuykendall to begin the first inning and Chris Ellison moved him to second with a slow sacrifice bunt, a wild throw to first by third baseman Jason Martinson allowing Ellison and Kuykendall to advance to second and third, respectively. Matulis then loaded the bases with a one-out walk to Shayne Willson but wiggled out of the early jam with a strikeout and pop-out.
"He was able to get a strikeout when he needed it," Dreier said.
The Bucs would waste no such chances the very next inning.
Brian Bello, who was hit by a Cody Kendall offering to start the top of the second, bolted to third on a double down the left-field line by Coley Crank and walked home on a first-pitch single to left by Brian McConkey.
Crank then came home on a single by No. 9 hitter Zach Vincej, the ball ricocheting off Kendall's hand as he tried to make a play.
A slow roller down the third-base line by Kellen Kiilsgaard loaded the bases and Eddie Young cleared them with a three-run double to the left-center gap that stretched the lead to 5-0. Kendall struck out the next two batters, the eighth and ninth of the inning, in walking off with a five-run deficit.
He then settled down, albeit for just five batters.
After retiring the side in the third, Kendall quickly recorded the first two outs of the fourth before hitting trouble again.
Consecutive walks to Kiilsgaard and Young, his first free passes of the evening, immediately scarred him as Austin Barnes deposited a 1-1 pitch over the left-field fence, just the third home run at Coral Seymour this summer, in ballooning the lead to 8-0.
Crank then yanked the fourth homer in Kenai, a sailing shot to left-center that pierced a steady downpour with one out in the fifth.
"Coley's a strong kid. He's struggled this season hitting," Dreier said. "It doesn't surprise me that he could do that and Austin has surprising pop for a little guy.
"I was a little surprised that they went out," he added of the unfriendly hitters park, "but it's not out of the realm of possibility with those two guys."
Kendall finished the inning with his sixth and final strikeout, departing after an uncharacteristic outing in which he surrendered all nine runs on eight hits and two walks.
"He just left some pitches up," Walker said of Kendall, the lone Oiler named to the ABL All-Star team released on Thursday. "Worst outing he's had so far this summer, but I guess everybody's entitled to one."
Matulis, meanwhile, put two on with one out in the fourth, Ryan Fisher reaching on a throwing error and Glen Johnson on a base hit. But the lanky southpaw whiffed Jake Johnson on a high fastball and required just one pitch to get Caleb Bushyhead to pop out in quelling the threat.
For the third time in four five innings, Matulis allowed the leadoff man to reach first when he again hit Kuykendall with a pitch. Like the previous two instances, however, he worked out of the situation with a ground-out and two fly-outs.
After Peninsula reliever Nick Loredo needed merely seven pitches to retire the Bucs in order in the sixth, Fisher and Glen Johnson stroked back-to-back singles with one out in the bottom half and Fisher came home with the lone Oilers' run on a looping, two-out single to right by Caleb Bushyhead.
Overall, though, the Oilers stranded 10 runners in just six innings.
"We had second and third and no outs (in the first) and didn't get anybody in and they took that momentum and put up a three-spot and then just kind of took off from there," Walker said. "I think we're a 30 percent success ratio in that situation. All you've got to do is put the ball in play. Whatever. It is what it is."
Matthew Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.
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