Midnight Sun Game

Panners third baseman Colin Runge makes a throw to first base during the Alaska Goldpanners Midnight Sun Game against the Seattle Studs Friday night, June 21, 2019 at Growden Memorial Park.

The Alaska Goldpanners’ season came to an end Thursday in Wichita, Kansas, at the National Baseball Congress World Series as the team dropped its single-elimination quarterfinal matchup 6-1 to the San Diego Stars.

“It always sucks. You never want to see anything come to an end, especially in sports, unless you’re the last one,” Goldpanners head coach Miles Kizer said over the phone. “I think the biggest thing for me is just not going to be seeing these guys anymore. They’re all going to go back to their schools … and I’ll probably never see them face to face again some of them.”

The Goldpanners finished the season with a 34-13 record after a rocky 8-6 start, including a loss in the Midnight Sun Game, which the home team has lost only 12 times in the game’s 114-year history. A two-day scoreless period during the tournament stretch in July in British Columbia proved to be a turning point for the team.

“Once you get everybody in a tight confined space for an extended period of time a brotherhood starts to develop and they become a team and I think that’s what you saw at B.C.,” Kizer said. “We had a couple of skids where we didn’t score for two straight days and they kind of got themselves together and started getting after it.”

The team went on a seven game win streak to win the Grand Forks International Tournament, securing its World Series bid, and a week later placed second in the Kamloops tournament. The team returned to Fairbanks, where it posted a 14-3 record over the next three weeks.

“We pitched really well for stretches. You look at that stretch from June 23 to the middle of July, we didn’t play a game where we made more than one error. I mean that is unbelievable defense. And then you look at what we did offensively in the month of July, I mean we really started to click and we really started to go so I thought we played all three facets of the game really, really well this summer,” Kizer said.

The Goldpanners went into Thursday’s matchup with a 3-0 record in Wichita and a tournament best 20-plus run differential. But Stars starter Jonathan Sintes shut down the Alaska offense on Thursday, with an 111-81 pitch to strike ratio over nine innings, allowing six hits, one walk and throwing nine strikeouts. The Goldpanners’ only run came in the ninth inning when Preston Viltz scored on an error by the Stars’ second baseman.

Cameron Walker started on the mound for the Goldpanners, pitching 3 2/3 innings, allowing eight hits and all six of the Stars runs. Walker, who transitioned from a reliever to become the Goldpanners go-to starter for the second half of the summer, finished the season 3-3 with a 4.40 ERA.

“I know his box scores might not show it and I know his line is probably not the best but he threw really well,” Kizer said about Walker’s summer performance. “He grew up a lot and he dominated.” Kizer also coaches Walker during the year at Western Oregon University.

Derek Alumbaugh replaced Walker on the mound, allowing two hits over 3 1/3 innings. Matt Becker pitched one inning, allowing one hit, and Zach Johnson threw a perfect inning to close out the game.

Thursday’s matchup not only marked the last game of the summer for the Goldpanners, but was also likely the last game for the team with Kizer at the helm. The Goldpanners coach for the past two seasons said he isn’t anticipating coming back in 2020 because he is finishing up some paperwork to secure the recruiting coordinator position at Yavapai College, a community college in Prescott, Arizona. 

“I’m really excited to see what happens with the organization over the next three years,” said Kizer even though he will likely be over 3,000 miles from Growden Memorial Park next summer. “Our ownership group does an unbelievable job of taking care of the players and we’re going to continue to put a really high quality product on the field. ... I think the sky is really the limit and I think the Panners can get back to being an unbelievable summer destination.”

Contact News-Miner sports writer Laura Stickells at 459-7530. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMsports