Regardless of the final result of Thursday night’s baseball game at Growden Park, the 491 people in attendance were just happy to have the Alaska Goldpanners back home for the first time in two years.
Still, picking up a thrilling win made the return of the Panners all the sweeter.
Down a run in the bottom of the eighth, Ryan Pierce hit a go-ahead two-run home run to put the Goldpanners up on the OC Riptide, Alaska added another insurance run, and the Panners earned a 3-1 come-from-behind victory in their first game in Growden Park since 2019 Thursday evening.
It was a special moment for the whole town. Nearly 500 people in attendance made their presence known as Pierce’s homer went over the fence to put the Panners ahead after having struggled at the plate most of the day.
More than anything, though, it just felt nice for the Panners to be back.
“Everything since we first arrived here has been first class,” said head coach Anthony Ferro. “Obviously the fans showing up tonight has been great for the players. (Goldpanners general manager) John (Lohrke) has done an unbelievable job for us having everything ready…to be able to reward the fans with a win tonight is great. There’s nothing better that we could’ve asked for.”
Things didn’t look good in the top of the first as starting pitcher German Fajardo allowed three batters to get on base, including Eric Bigani whose RBI single scored Spencer Serven to make it a 1-0 game.
Alaska had a chance in the bottom of the second when they had runners on second and third, but Chase Rodriguez popped out to third for the last out to keep the game 1-0.
In the top of the third, Fajardo was the catalyst on a spectacular double play as he caught Tyler Griggs’ hit right off the bat, threw the ball to second for one out before Carson Gross tossed the ball to first for the second out. A groundball right after that got the Panners out of the inning.
The Panners had yet another opportunity in the bottom of the 4th when David Martin singled and ultimately advanced to third base. With two outs, however, Elijah Dale grounded out to end the inning with Alaska still scoreless.
Fajardo pitched well for four innings and Ian Torpey did well in relief. The defense continued to make plays as well, including a spectacular diving catch by Grady Morgan in the sixth. The hits just weren’t coming as the Panners managed just two hits through the first five innings before Noah Turley singled to deep right in the sixth. David Martin and Elijah Dale were then walked to load the bases with two outs, but Gross ended up popping out to end the inning with Alaska still scoreless.
Then came the bottom of the eighth when fans got on their feet. Morgan led things off with a double to deep right field. After back-to-back strikeouts by Turley and Martin, it looked like it may be another wasted inning.
Cue Pierce’s intro music.
Pierce hit one over the left side fence for a two-run homer to score Morgan and himself and put the Panners in the lead 2-1.
“The whole day I was struggling,” said Pierce. “I kept flying out to right (field). The swinging softened up and that last at-bat I just got my barrel out. That’s all I was trying to do.”
Elijah Dale scored shortly after that on a balk by the opposing pitcher.
There was still some drama at the end. After Torpey gave up a single to Bigani, Jack-Thomas Wold came in as the pinch runner and eventually advanced to third. After collecting two outs, Torpey walked Emilio Rosas before facing Austin Kryszczuk. Torpey ended up getting the K and the win as the Panners moved to 4-2 on the year.
“Walking in (to the ninth inning) my team gave me a 3-1 lead,” said Torpey. “That made me feel really comfortable knowing that I could have little slip ups and still close it out.”
Alaska’s pitching was strong all day long, as Fajardo gave up just four hits and one earned run while striking out five in five innings of work.
Torpey surrendered just two hits, walked two, and struck out three to get the W.
Pierce lead the team with a 2-for-4 effort with one run and 2 RBI’s.
Perhaps most impressively, the team didn’t commit a single error on the day after struggling on defense the first few games.
Friday’s game against OC Riptide finished after press time while Saturday’s game begins at 7 p.m.
Contact sports reporter Hart Pisani at 459-7530 or follow him at twitter.com/FDNMSports.