The Peninsula Oilers rallied for five runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to defeat the Clarinda A's of Iowa 11-7 on Tuesday at the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan., in afternoon temperatures over 100 degrees.
The Oilers now have two of the seven victories needed to win their fourth NBC title. The Oilers continue play in the winner's bracket on Friday at 2 p.m. Alaska time, when they face the winner of the game between the San Diego Stars of California and the Crestwood Panthers of Illinois. That game was still in progress on Tuesday night as the Clarion went to press.
While fans of the central peninsula came to know an Oilers club that relied on pitching and defense for victories, fans in Wichita are coming to know a more offensive-minded club.
The Oilers began to find their offense starting with a road trip to Fairbanks near the end of the Alaska Baseball League season. Including that road trip, the Oilers averaged six runs per game in the final 10 games of the year.
The confidence generated by that run came in handy in the eighth inning on Tuesday. Seth Harvey, a main cog in the normally reliable Oilers bullpen, came on with a 6-2 lead.
Harvey promptly let the A's load the bases with no outs. Brandon Mikkelson then singled to score two runs.
Erik Draxton came on in relief of Harvey, but was greeted by a triple by Ryan Peterson that tied the game. Peterson then scored on a throwing error by second baseman Vince Belnome for a 7-6 lead.
According to Oilers manager Tom Myers, reached Tuesday on a cell phone in Wichita, the team remained confident even after the big comeback.
"Our offense is at a high confidencewise," Myers said. "These guys have been through the wringer and lost some tough games so that didn't deflate us.
"We've been through the good and bad. Our battle cry is that we know how to handle adversity and we showed it again."
A's pitcher Spencer Cunnif came on in relief in the bottom of the eighth. The Oilers loaded the bases with one out on walks by Tre Dennis and Belnome and an infield single by Nick Ciolli, who joined the Oilers after the season from the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks.
Kawika Emsley-Pai then walked to force in a run before Jeremy Gould hit a pop-up for the second out. Brian McConkey, another Oilers pickup for the tournament, walked for an 8-7 lead.
Francis Larson then gave the Oilers valuable insurance when he doubled down the left-field line to score three runs.
"They came back to take the lead, but to our guys' credit they didn't give in," Myers said.
Draxton then struck out the side in the ninth to pick up the win in relief and keep the Oilers in the winner's bracket.
"Getting in the winner's bracket allows us days off to let players rest," Myers said. "We can better manage the pitching staff. In this heat, it's nice to have a few days off."
Myers said that the heat doesn't affect field-position players as much as it does pitchers. The A's walked seven while the Oilers walked four.
"I think the humidity has something to do with the command of the breaking ball," Myers said. "Guys throwing curveballs showed an inability to locate."
Myers said the difficulty in locating a curveball in humid conditions is one reason the slider is preferred over the curve in the major leagues.
Nick Pesco got the start for the Oilers against the A's and gave up two earned runs in four innings. Myers said Pesco, a pickup for the tournament, has played five years of professional baseball. Myers said Pesco had surgery to repair his labrum -- one of the most difficult shoulder surgeries from which to recover -- one year ago and is looking to catch a scout's eye at the tournament.
Brandon Dixon had two innings of scoreless relief for the Oilers.
On offense, Belnome had two RBIs, Gould was 2-for-4 with three runs, McConkey was 2-for-2 with two runs and two RBIs and Dennis was 1-for-2 with two runs and two RBIs.
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