OLEAN -- Mired in a four-game slide characterized by late-inning collapses, an occasional lack of hitting and bad luck, the Olean Oilers gathered for a little longer than usual following an early loss Wednesday.
Olean was only minutes from starting the second game of an inter-division doubleheader with the Syracuse Spartans. But before it took the field, coach Brian O’Connell Jr. delivered his team a message.
“I told the guys after Game 1 that there was no way we were leaving the stadium without winning that second game, because we weren’t going to drop five in a row,” O’Connell Jr. recalled, “so somebody is going to have to step up.”
As it turned out, two somebodies stepped up.
Tyler Phillips had game-tying hits in the second and fourth innings and finished with four RBIs and Danny Kirwin tossed four shutdown frames out of the bullpen to lift the Oilers to a 6-4 seven-inning win over Syracuse in the nightcap at Bradner Stadium. This came after a 5-1 opening-game loss in which Olean (2-4) fell behind 3-0 in the first inning due, in part, to a controversial call in right field and never recovered.
“As I said to the team after Game 1, we needed to put an offensive and a pitching performance together,” O’Connell Jr. said, “and we finally did that in Game 2.”
After collecting just four hits in the opener, Olean trailed 2-0 in the second inning of Game 2 to reach the official lowpoint of the young season. An error and an opportunistic Phillips helped give the defending New York Collegiate Baseball League Western Division champions new life.
In the aftermath of a Syracuse miscue that made it 2-1, Phillips tied it with an RBI single in the bottom half. He did the same with Olean trailing 4-2 in the fourth with a two-run single and put the finishing touches on his performance with an insurance run on a sacrifice fly in the sixth after the Oilers took the lead on a Dylan Vincent (Olean High) fielder’s choice as part of a three-run fourth.
That was enough for Kirwin, who made sure that Olean didn’t let another winnable game slip away. In his third outing of the season, the 6-foot-2 righthander from Rider was nearly perfect, surrendering no hits over four scoreless innings while striking out six with just one walk.
“There were positives for us out of the bullpen (in Game 1),” O’Connell Jr. noted. “Then to see Danny come out in Game 2 and get the win and throw as well as he did, it was phenomenal.
“We have the right players here, it’s just a matter of putting it all together. It was only one game but it was good to finally get off the slide and try to move forward.”
Brandon Dudley launched a solo home run, his second in as many games, in the opener for the Oilers, but that came after Olean had fallen into a 5-0 hole, including the disputed call that led to three runs in the first.
With one on and one out, the Spartans’ Jackson Geisler lifted a fly ball to right field that Phillips made a close diving play on. The umpire ruled that Phillips trapped the ball, opening the door for Syracuse with runners on first and second.
If the play had been called an out, the Oilers would have gotten out of the inning with the game still scoreless.
“The umpire went back, he saw what he saw; we just saw it differently,” O’Connell Jr. said. “It is what it is, but that put us in a 3-0 hole to start and it was hard for us to come back from that.”
Frank Wayman and Dudley both doubled to help ignite run-scoring innings in the nightcap for the Oilers. Kirwin slammed the door on any chance the Spartans (3-4) might have had to tie it. But Phillips, the younger brother of former Oilers standout Aaron, now with the San Francisco Giants organization, provided the initial spark.
And rather than sitting at 1-5 and riding a five-game losing streak, Olean has a much-needed victory on which it now hopes to build.
“We’ve got a great group of guys here, a great team this year,” Phillips said, “so (a win) had to happen eventually. It’s great that it happened at the end of a doubleheader in front of the home fans. We feel good now; hopefully we can carry this energy on.”
Added O’Connell Jr., whose team is scheduled to meet Mansfield tonight at Bradner (6 o’clock): “In Game 2, I sensed a little bit of a turn from the guys. They were fired up, everybody was engaged, and I think everybody was sick of losing and they wanted to put an end to that losing streak, so that was good.”