Goldpanners Turn Out the Lights
(Reprinted from the June 22, 2000
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner)
By RICHARD LARSON
Jonah Martin's hit traveled less than 10 feet, but it was the
Alaska Goldpanners' biggest hit of the night.
As Santa Barbara catcher Chris Popoff and pitcher Matt
Rainer dove after Martin's hit, Nate Sickler came sprinting
home with the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth
inning giving the Panners an electrifying 3-2 win over Santa
Barbara in the 95th Midnight Sun Game.
Showers poured down on the near-capacity crowd at Growden
Park throughout the night, but the majority of the fans stuck
around to see the Panners win in dramatic fashion.
With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the
ninth, Santa Barbara not only brought the infield in, but also
used one of their outfielders as a sixth infielder. On an 0-2
count Martin just barely got a piece of a pitch by Matt
Rainer, and the ball hit a few feet from the plate and stuck
in the mud.
Sickler got a good jump and, with nobody covering home,
slid in safely ahead of Rainer, who dove toward home plate
after grabbing the ball.
"I knew I couldn't get forced out at home,"
Sickler said. "I was lucky they both went for the ball. I
got a good jump, slid in and the game was over. At first I
thought the hit was going to roll foul, but it stopped in the
dirt and when they both went for it, I knew I had home."
Sickler led off the game-winning rally by reaching base on
an infield hit. He kept the rally alive when he slid safely
into second on a fielder's choice by Chad Redfern with one
"I was stealing on the pitch. I knew it was going to
be close," Sickler said. "I tried to help the ump
out, but jumping up and trying to be excited."
Kaulana Kuhaulua was hit by a pitch with the count full,
bringing Martin to the plate.
Martin's hit gave the Panners their fifth come-from-behind
win in seven games this season. The Panners trailed 2-1 in the
middle of the seventh before scoring runs in the bottom of the
seventh and ninth innings.
"It feels good," Sickler said. "We
definitely have a lot of confidence and we are in a pretty
good grove right now."
The game started out as a pitchers' duel between the
Panners' Barry Matthews and the Foresters' Joe Blankenship.
Both pitchers worked seven innings.
Matthews left after allowing two runs on four hits, while
striking out two and walking two. Blankenship allowed two runs
on three hits, struck out eight and walked five.
The Goldpanners scored their first run after a strange wild
streak from Blankenship. After striking out three of the first
seven batters he faced in the game, throwing 21 of 28 pitches
for strikes, Blankesnhip proceeded to walk four straight
batters in the third inning. A walk to Jonah Martin with the
bases-loaded drove in Jack Wickersham with the first run of
As suddenly as he lost the strike zone, Blankenship
rediscovered it, striking out the last two batters he faced in
the inning, as the Panners left the bases loaded.
Blankenship didn't allow a hit until the seventh inning,
when a pair of singles by Sickler and Kuhaulua and an RBI
double by Chad Redfern accounted for the Panners' second run
of the game.
The Foresters scored their first run of the game in the
fourth when Steve Gantenbine led off with a single and
eventually scored on a groundout by Kelley Gulledge.
Santa Barbara took a brief 2-1 lead in the top of the
seventh when Christian Popoff drilled a two-out double that
scored John Ramistella.
The game began with light rain falling and heavier rain
clouds drifting around the park to the north and southwest.
Visibility was not great, but the game started two minutes
ahead of schedule at 10:28 p.m.
The rain started falling harder late in the third inning,
but the near-capacity crowd didn't seem to mind, actually
cheering louder. (Of course it probably helped that the
Panners scored their first run of the game at that point).
During the rain showers, Goldpanners public address
announcer Todd Dennis played "Singing in the Rain."
Before the start of the sixth he played an instrumental
version of "Here Comes the Sun."
As Fairbanks City Clerk Nancy DeLeon took the field at the
half-inning closest to midnight (the middle of the 7th) to
sing "Alaska's Flag," the sky was actually getting
brighter as the clouds were breaking to the north. The hills
to the northwest were lit a brilliant orange as the sun dipped
below the horizon.