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Goldpanners Turn Out the Lights
By RICHARD LARSON
By RICHARD LARSON
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 out.
"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 the game.
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.
June 22, 2000, Daily News-Miner