By: Jon Zaghloul
Lemont, Ill. – July 7, 2019 – For those who follow Crestwood Panthers baseball regularly, Eddie Wilkins' (University of Illinois-Springfield / Braidwood, Ill.) name is synonymous with strikeouts, a minuscule ERA, yet perhaps, most importantly, winning. In fact, out of the Panthers' five total wins on the season, Wilkins has started in three of them. Therefore, when Wilkins is scheduled to toe the rubber, the expectation of extravagant pitching and downright competitive baseball is implied. Case in point, with Wilkins on the mound on Sunday afternoon, and the Panthers offense able to take advantage of the DuPage County Hounds' defensive mistakes, Crestwood cruised to a much-needed 4-0 victory.
The offense, from the beginning, established a comfortable lead that allowed Wilkins to pitch with assurance on the mound. In the first inning, after a Ray Hilbrich (Purdue University-Northwest / Schererville, Ind.) single and stolen base, Reggie Brock Jr. (Chicago State / Chicago, Ill.), who would go on to record two hits in the game, reached first base on a dropped third strike. The ensuing throw down to first base by Hounds catcher Ben Snapp sailed into right field, plating Hilbrich, who scored from second base. Later in the inning, Rhay Street (Southwest Baptist University / Olympia Fields, Ill.) hit a hard groundball to second base, with which two outs already recorded, should have ended the inning. However, a botched fielding attempts by Hounds second baseman Brady Hebert allowed Brock to score, making it 2-0. Manager Isaac Valdez was pleased with his team's ability to take advantage of the Hounds mistakes, while initiating an early lead.
"It's nice that we were on the opposite side of the errors this time around," Valdez joked. "Overall though, we didn't make an error today, and then took advantage of what they gave us. Actually, our defense, as a whole, has played very well over the past week. We've had a couple of games where we haven't committed an error, like today, and it's helped us stay in games."
Of course, despite the Panthers' defensive success and ability to inflict damage upon the Hounds' mishaps, the story of this game was Eddie Wilkins. Lasting all nine innings while giving up zero runs, Wilkins also scattered only four hits throughout the game, striking out nine DuPage County hitters in the process. Additionally, his strike percentage of 70.1 (75 strikes out of 107 pitches) served as a godsend to a Panthers pitching staff that has struggled to throw strikes throughout the season.
"Eddie was just lights out today," said Valdez. "Even without his power fastball, which is why you didn't see the strikeout numbers that you normally do, Eddie did great. That just goes to show you that he's a pitcher, not a thrower."
After Sunday's impressive performance, Wilkins lowered his season ERA to 1.82, while picking up his third win of the season. On a related note, Wilkins has been nominated for MCL Pitcher of the Week for the fourth time this season, and looks to take home some hardware in lieu of his participation in the MCL All-Star Game on Saturday.
As for the Panthers, their fifth win of the season will be followed by two well-deserved days off before a Wednesday night matchup with the first-place Southland Vikings. Despite the daunting challenge ahead, Valdez anticipates that his team can build some critical momentum off of Sunday's victory, heading into next week.
"Having these next couple of days off will help us set up a pitching rotation for the week, which will help stay in these upcoming games. Hopefully today's win will be used a springboard to a few more wins next week."
Coverage of the Panthers' Wednesday night matchup against the Southland Vikings begins at 5 p.m. on the Vikings Broadcast Network, available via Facebook Live.
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