Thanks to an uncharacteristic barrage of offense, the Alaska Goldpanners beat the San Francisco Seals 10-2 in the championship game of the Grand Forks International Tournament on Monday.
The Panners advanced to the championship after beating the Everett Merchants 1-0 in the semi-final game earlier that day.
With the championship title comes $18,000 in prize money and a ticket to the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kansas. The tournament invites 30 of the top semi-pro summer league teams from around the country. The Panners have not attended since 2016, when they placed seventh.
The entire lineup contributed offensively in the championship game, highlighted by Cole Carder (2 for 4 with three runs), Aaron Kim (2 for 4 with one run and two RBIs), Collin Runge (2 for 4 with 2 RBIs) and Bryant Nakagawa (2 for 3 with three runs and one RBI).
“In the championship game, when everyone is kind of thin on pitching, it was cool to see our offense open up a little bit and give us some breathing room,” said Goldpanners head coach Miles Kizer after the game. “Things just continued to snowball, which was awesome to see and we were able to just extend.”
Matt Becker started the game for Alaska, pitching five innings, allowing three hits, one run and no walks, while throwing two strikeouts. Relievers Derek Alumbaugh and Harrison Goebel pitched two innings a piece. Alumbaugh allowed two hits and no runs and Goebel allowed one hit and one run.
In the semi-final game starting pitcher Cameron Walker had a shot at redemption. Walker started Sunday’s money round game but only pitched 2/3 of an inning. After allowing four hits and two runs, Kizer made a pitching change, opting for Joe Riley.
“Cam just didn’t have his stuff,” Kizer said after the money round game. But Walker certainly brought his stuff Monday, pitching seven innings, limiting the Merchants to two hits, two walks and no runs.
“It takes a special person. It’s a very difficult thing mentally to be able to move on and get past what happened yesterday,” Kizer said after the championship game. “He came out and was able to just shove. It was one pitch at a time for as long as he could … I was hoping for five (innings). To get seven from him was pretty unbelievable.”
Pitchers Zach Johnson, Isaac Olsen and Riley pitched the last two innings. The trio, combined, allowed two hits and no runs.
The solo run in the game came in the top of the second inning. Ben McKay reached first base on a walk and reached scoring position on a single by Nakagawa. Tony Riley followed it up with a one run single, giving them the one run lead they would hold onto for seven more innings.
“We have a really good group of arms, but when you look at what we did defensively, that’s just as big a piece to all of it. Our position players did a huge job of spinning double plays. I think our shortstop (Grant Delappe) made one error in the tournament, which is pretty incredible … Ben McKay who has struggled a bit defensively had a great tournament. Runge at third had a great tournament defensively,” Kizer said.
“The pitching staff did a good job of forcing contact early and making guys put it in play, but as a team we were able to control the ball and get quick outs.”
The Panners committed one error in Monday’s games combined and marked the highest fielding percentage in the tournament at .984.
The Goldpanners now travel to Kamloops, British Columbia, to participate in the eight-team Kamloops International Baseball Tournament. They first play the Coquitlam Angels at 11 a.m. Thursday.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Laura Stickells at 459-7530. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMsports.