Crestwood, Ill. – August 4, 2019 – High-spirited. Resilient. Battle-tested.
Those three adjectives undoubtedly define the Crestwood Panthers and their performance put forth throughout the 2019 MCL season. And on Sunday afternoon, even in a meaningless game against the Bloomington Bobcats, the Panthers lived up to their namesake, assembling an encouraging battle that ended in a 7-2 loss.
For the fourth consecutive game, the Panthers took the initial lead, courtesy of a Reggie Brock Jr. (Chicago State / Chicago, Ill.) sacrifice fly that plated Ray Hilbrich (Purdue University-Northwest / Schererville, Ind.). The tide would change in the top half of the third inning, however, as Bloomington stormed back, scoring four runs on back-to-back-to-back extra-base hits. Despite the Bobcats' big inning, the Panthers would go on to mobilize yet another comeback, as Blake Soria (Benedictine University / Homer Glen, Ill.) recorded an RBI groundout in the fourth, thus cutting Crestwood's deficit to three at the time. Unfortunately, the Panthers would fail to score another run for the rest of the game, while the Bobcats added two more in innings eight and nine. Although the end result was less than ideal, Manager Isaac Valdez was encouraged by the competitiveness of Sunday's matchup.
"Overall, it was a close game throughout," said Valdez. "We had our chances, but a couple of mistakes here and there, and a lack of timely hitting, kept us behind. Look, they're a very good team, and they have the record to show for it. They just beat us today, but we made it close."
On the mound, Connor McCloskey (Beloit College / Chicago, Ill.) continued a run of successful outings to close out the season, pitching five innings of four-run baseball, while striking out an astounding nine Bobcat hitters. In relief, Ethen Otstott (Prairie State College / Oak Forest, Ill.) surrendered just one run over three innings, and Jon Zaghloul (University of Chicago / Tinley Park, Ill.) finished off the game, giving up one run in the ninth inning.
As for the Panthers' season as a whole, their 11-29 record may look displeasing from the outset, but with context, it proved to be the most successful season in franchise history. Crestwood nearly doubled their win total from 2018, and found themselves in the thick of countless games during the year. The Panthers sent six players to the MCL All-Star Game in July, and have legitimate nominees for the MCL's MVP and Manager of the Year awards, in addition to the All-League Team. In Valdez's book, that not only constitutes a memorable season, but one that signals even more improvement come 2020.
"I was really proud at how these guys performed in innings one through nine everyday," said Valdez. "Even if we got kicked in the butt the day before, a lot of times, we would end up winning the next day. These guys just continued to 'wow' me throughout the entire season, and I had a great time this summer just hanging out with them. I just wish, for their sake, that we had more victories along with a possible playoff appearance. In the end, though, I personally had a good time with the guys."
As for the upcoming season, which stands at around 10 months away, the Panthers are looking to improve a sparse pitching rotation, along with prioritizing player attendance, according to Valdez.
"Unfortunately, we just didn't have enough pitching, but I thought we hit the ball really well. What also hurt us a bit was that some guys decided to stop showing up to games. We had good players, but they didn't want to come out after a certain period of time. We need to get better in those areas heading into next year."
In the Panthers' case, however, 2019 should not be reflected on in distaste. In fact, Valdez summarized the Panthers' season perfectly, referencing their tough record in relation to their continuous resiliency.
"This never felt like a below-.500 team. This never felt like an 11-29 team. This team had some tremendous improvement, and I expect even better things come next season."
Crestwood officially ends the 2019 MCL season with an 11-29 record, and a last-place finish in the MCL standings. Despite the season's end, more news is expected to be forthcoming regarding end-of-the-year awards, so please continue to monitor the team's website. And remember, as always, Go Panthers!