Late Home Run lifts Alaska Goldpanners to home-opening victory

Updated: Jun. 11, 2021 at 6:38 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Peanuts and Cracker Jacks are back. The smell of freshly cut grass is back. ‘Happy Boy’ is back. The Alaska Goldpanners are back. After a two year absence from Growden Memorial Park, nearly 500 Fairbanks baseball fans showed they were eager for their return - and got a pretty good show against the Orange County Riptide.

After a successful first pitch from a North Haven VIP family representative, the actual first pitch did not go as well. Riptide lead-off hitter Spencer Serven roped a doubled off the right field wall, before eventually scoring in the opening inning. However, Goldpanners starting pitcher German Fajardo - of the University of Arizona - settled the rest of the way, throwing four scoreless innings. Relief pitcher Ian Torpey, of Northern Colorado, matched the efforts of OC’s pitch-by-committee, as the score remained 1-0 through the middle of the eighth inning.

Grady Morgan, of Butte College, pulled a ground ball down the right field line for a lead-off double to spark the bats. After back-to-back strikeouts, Ryan Pierce, of Fresno State, stepped to the plate with the tying run in scoring position. However, he wasn’t thinking about just tying the game. On a 0-1 count, Pierce blasted his first home run in Fairbanks, a two-run shot over the left field wall that lifted the Panners to a 2-1 lead.

“The only thing really on my mind the whole at bat was just getting my barrel out,” Pierce said of his go-ahead home run. “The whole day I was struggling, flying out to right, just swinging soft, not being me. That last at bat, just got my barrel out and that was all I was trying to do.”

In the same frame, Elijah Dale scored on a balk that provided the final score. Torpey shut down the Riptide for four straight innings, allowing just two hits while striking out three to pick up the win on the mound.

“We really wanted to win our home-opener, it was definitely emphasized in the clubhouse and pregame and all throughout the game,” Torpey said. “We knew that we were hitting hard balls in play and it was about time until something went our way. We just persevered until the 8th inning and got some runs and closed it out. It was all for the fans, we wanted to win this game so bad for just the city of Fairbanks.”

Grady Morgan (Butte College), Noah Turley (Arizona), Carson Gross (Northern Colorado) and David Martin (Cal Baptist) each produced a hit, while the defense played a clean game sans errors.

“Everything here since we arrived has been first class,” Field Manager Anthony Ferro said after the win. “Obviously the fans showing up tonight has been great for the players, John [Lohrke] has done an unbelievable job for us having everything ready, it has been first class since we have been here. It has been awesome and to be able to reward the fans with a win tonight, there is nothing better that we could ask for.”

The Goldpanners (4-2) and the Riptide (0-1) will go at it again Friday before the series finale Saturday with first pitch at 7 p.m. for both contests.

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