Chinooks Split Independence Day Doubleheader with Goldpanners


CHUGIAK – The Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks salvaged a Fourth of July split on Friday, taking the second game of a twin bill from the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks. The Fish dropped the first of two seven-inning affairs 6-2 before holding on in the nightcap with a thrilling 9-8 victory.

On a comfortable sunny day when a parade and spectators flooded the Old Glenn Highway for a couple of hours, the Chinooks and Goldpanners were preparing to square off for the first time this season. It proved to be a perfect evening for baseball, and the two teams on the field would not disappoint.

Azusa Pacific right hander Michael Fairchild took the hill in the opener, surrendering four runs on six hits and three walks over his five innings of work. The first man out of the Chinook bullpen was Hillsdale College’s Shane Armstrong, who overcame a hit in the sixth for a scoreless frame before Tell Taylor (Wisconsin-Milawukee) allowed two unearned runs in the top of the seventh.

For the Goldpanners, Mike Benson toed the rubber and gave his team a strong performance for six solid innings. He gave up just one run on three hits before Torgen Soderlund hurled the bottom of the seventh. The Chinooks managed a couple of hits and a run on Soderlund, but the rally came up well short and the Panners claimed victory in their first 2014 game in Chugiak. Fairchild took the loss for Chugiak-Eagle River, while it was Benson picking up the win for the red and gold.

At the plate, five Chinook hitters were credited with a base hit, though Princeton’s Billy Arendt received the team’s only RBI. Tanner Pinkston and Cody Nulph each drove in a pair of runs for Fairbanks, while Brandon Caruso and Scott Hurst sparked multi-hit ballgames. It proved to be plenty of run support, as the Goldpanners held on for the win in the series opener.

The second game saw an increase in offensive fireworks, as the two clubs combined for 17 runs on 15 base hits and eight different pitchers. The Chinooks were hoping to salvage a split by picking up a victory, and they would do just that in an exciting nightcap.

The Fish again got on the scoreboard in the first inning, but their guests responded with a two-run top of the second and plated another run in the third. Chugiak-Eagle River cut the lead to 3-2 in the home half of the inning before the Panners added two more runs in the fifth.

The bottom of the fifth inning proved to be the difference maker, as the Chinooks sent 11 batters to the plate and managed to score seven times. The home nine carried a 9-5 lead into the seventh inning, but Fairbanks made it close, scoring three times in the final inning. When the final out was recorded, the Chinooks led 9-8, and the Fish Faithful on hand let out a collective sigh of relief.

Individually, Arendt had three base hits in four plate appearances, and Westmont College’s Steven Pollex hit a single off the right field wall that would have cleared had it been two feet higher. Pollex would add another hit before his day was through, while Jackson Cramer (West Virginia) and AJ Derr (Point Loma Nazarene) were the only other Chinooks to record a hit.

Caruso, Vahn Bozoian, and Hunter Villanueva combined for five hits, five RBI, and three walks to highlight the effort for the Panners. Three other Fairbanks hitters found a base knock, but the late rally attempt came up just short.

Goldpanner starter Joel Belk hurled lasted four innings before turning things over to the bullpen, but that’s when things went sour for the visitors. Andrew Buehler surrendered four runs and recorded just one out, and Russell Harmening only got out of the inning after allowing two more. Jayson Balades pitched a flawless bottom of the sixth, but the Chinooks didn’t need to send a man to the plate in the seventh.

Steven Wagar (Puget Sound) allowed three runs in his three innings of work, and North Alabama’s Kyle Conkle was the first Fish out of the left field bullpen. Conkle held the Panners scoreless in his lone frame, making him the only Chinook pitcher of the game to do so. Zach Freeman (New Mexico State) and Lance Phillips (Arkansas) struggled a bit over the game’s final three innings, but Freeman ultimately held on for his second victory of the year.

The Chinooks will host the Goldpanners in the rubber match of the series on Saturday, when Stony Brook right hander Timothy Knesnik will take the hill for the home team. First pitch from Loretta French is slated for 7:00 pm.