Joe Riley didn’t bring his best stuff to the mound Saturday night, but it was what he did off the field that helped the Alaska Goldpanners to a 7-5 win over the Kansas Cannons in the second game of pool play at the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kansas.
The starting pitcher, Riley, leads the team with 54 strikeouts and boasts a 1.67 ERA, but tonight he pitched 51/3 innings, allowing 11 hits and five runs. Five of those hits and three of the runs came in the fifth inning.
“I think things just kind of sped up and the moment might have gotten a little bit big. But Joe, I mean, he kept making really good pitches,” Goldpanners head coach Miles Kizer said over the phone after the game. “It just got to a point where he had a couple innings that had kind of gotten extended out on him. … It was just a bad situation.”
The team had led 3-2 after the second inning thanks two a two-run double in the first from Trevor Greenley and a sacrifice fly in the second. Kansas’ two runs came in the first. But after going four innings with only one hit and two walks and the Cannons ahead 5-3, morale was low in the Goldpanners dugout.
“I think it got a little grim at points because I think we were getting frustrated because we felt like we weren’t getting rewarded for some really good barrel and for some really good swings,” Kizer said.
But it was Riley who got the team motivated again.
“Joe kind of got us going a little bit and got us fired up in the dugout,” the Panners coach said. “It was great to see one of our older guys step up in that leadership role. He didn’t have his best stuff today but he was able to step up when it mattered and get us over the hump.”
Isaac Olson replaced Riley on the mound and was rock solid, allowing no hits in the seventh or eighth innings, giving Alaska a chance to get back on top. With two outs and Braxton Inniss and Preston Viltz both in scoring position in the bottom of the seventh, Collin Runge knocked a two run single to tie the game. Newcomer, Russell Stevenson hit a chopper in the bottom of the eighth that got over the third baseman’s head and brought in two more runs for Alaska, putting the team up 7-2.
In the top of the ninth, Olson started to get shaky. Patrick Chung made a diving play at second to squash what was almost a hit.
Cannon leadoff hitter, now seeing Olson for the second time, got on base with a single and the next hitter drew a walk. Drew Stahl, a Goldpanner addition from the San Francisco Seals for the NBC tournament finished out the game for Olson.
“It was kind of the point where I felt like they were starting to see him a little bit. He had done 100% his job so it was kind of time to pass the baton onto the next guy to finish the ball game,” Kizer said.
With the win the Goldpanners advance to 2-0 in the tournament and clinched the win in their pool. The team has one more pool play game against the San Antonio Angels on Monday before they move onto the single elimination bracket. As the winner of its pool, the team earned a first day bye and will begin the elimination round on Thursday.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Laura Stickells at 459-7530. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMSports.