August 4, 2016 - Alaska Baseball League (Alaska) - Mat-Su Miners
PALMER, Alaska - The opening game of the Alaska Baseball League playoffs turned into a pitcher's duel on Thursday, with Mat-Su Miners starter Connor Higgins led his team to a 4-1 victory over the Anchorage Bucs.
"Higgins has made as big of a jump as anyone in our club this summer with his maturity," Miners head coach Ben Taylor said. "We really trust him and he did a fantastic job."
Higgins held the Bucs to one run and five hits in 6.1 innings of work to earn the win in the first game of the playoff series. The left-hander tallied three strikeouts and walked two batters at Hermon Brothers Field.
"Today felt like I had a good three-pitch mix for the first time this summer," Higgins said. "All three pitches were really in the zone today. The couple hits I gave up were a hanging changeups, but the fastball was my saving grace today."
The Miners (26-18 regular season, 1-0 playoffs) posted a run in the bottom of the third on a solo shot from Angelo Armenta. The third baseman drove a 1-2 fastball 370 feet over the right field fence for his second home run of the summer.
The Bucs (20-24 regular season, 0-1 playoffs) answered back in the top of the fourth, as Anchorage shortstop Alan Trejo scored with one out when Higgins missed low with a pitch to force a passed ball.
Mat-Su bounced back in the bottom half of the inning when rightfielder Garrison Schwartz doubled to score second baseman Levi Jordan, giving the Miners a 2-1 lead. Leftfielder Michael Donadio followed with an RBI double of his own to stretch the lead to two runs.
Jordan added to the lead in the bottom of the fifth, driving the second pitch of his at-bat over the left field fence to give the Miners a 4-1 advantage.
"The swings were short tonight and the guys put some charges into the ball, it was a good night for us," Taylor said.
Anchorage starter Justin Mulvaney finished with four runs and seven hits in 4.2 innings of work. The right-hander walked two batters and recorded one strikeout in his tenth appearance for Anchorage.
Bucs pitcher Zach Reid added 3.1 scoreless innings of relief, holding the Miners to one hit.
Anchorage threatened in the top of the seventh after loading the bases against Higgins with one out. Relief pitcher Mick Vorhof then took the mound, earning a strikeout against Trejo and forcing centerfielder L.J. Hatch to fly out to retire the side.
"Mick coming in and getting those outs was huge for us," Higgins said. "It really put the game on hold."
Vorhof provided the Miners with 1.2 innings of relief, holding the Bucs to one hit. Mat-Su closer Jordan Floyd took the mound in the ninth and earned the save by retiring the side in three at-bats.
"We have a lot of trust in those guys when we turn it over to our bullpen," Taylor said.
Jordan and Armenta led the Miners offense with two hits apiece, with Schwartz adding an RBI and a run for Mat-Su.
Catcher Alex Guenette provided the bulk of the Anchorage offense with two hits in three at-bats, while designated hitter Steven Sensley reached base twice in the loss.
The playoff series continues with a 2 p.m. matchup on Friday at Hermon Brothers Field.
"Our approach is to win the pitch in front of us and go from there," Taylor said.
If the series is tied at 1-1, a third game will follow approximately 40 minutes after the conclusion of the second game.
"We're in the driver's seat now with the Bucs having to play catch-up," Higgins said. "There's not as much pressure on us, so we will come out tomorrow and see what happens."
The Peninsula Oilers and Anchorage Glacier Pilots cancelled Thursday's playoff meeting due to weather conditions. The two teams agreed to hold a one-game playoff Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. with the winner advancing to the final series on Saturday.