By: Jon Zaghloul
Crestwood, Ill. – July 11, 2019 – After winning back-to-back games for the first time throughout the 2019 season, the Panthers were poised to make franchise history on Thursday night, as a third win in a row would mark the team's longest winning streak since joining the MCL back in 2017. Instead, however, troubles on the mound continued to haunt Crestwood, leading to a 13-1 loss against the Northwest Indiana Oilmen.
The matchup began on a promising note, as the Panthers jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the bottom half of the first inning, as MCL All-Star Reggie Brock Jr. (Chicago State / Chicago, Ill.) launched an RBI double to right field, plating fellow All-Star Ray Hilbrich (Purdue University-Northwest / Schererville, Ind.). By the game's second frame, though, Crestwood's once encouraging advantage became moot, as the Oilmen struck for ten runs, albeit on five hits and five walks. In fact, the Panthers were forced to turn to two different pitchers in the inning before Ethen Otstott (Prairie State College / Oak Forest, Ill.) was finally able to shut the door. Although the Oilmen would go on to scatter three more runs over the next seven innings, their hefty second inning would prove to be a considerable difference-maker in the game.
"The unfortunate thing is that we have four to five guys who, statistically speaking, throw at least 65 percent of their pitches for strikes," said Manager Isaac Valdez. "And when they pitch, we have a chance to win. But, as we saw here tonight, we also have some guys who are below fifty percent. So, unless some of these pitchers can figure it out on the mound, we could see losses like this happen again."
The Panthers, as a team, issued ten free passes, along with one hit by pitch, thus giving the Oilmen golden opportunities to tack on additional runs throughout the contest. Although Northwest Indiana still recorded a team batting average of .325, it was Crestwood's struggles for strikes on the mound that contributed most to their resounding defeat. Valdez issued a call to action to his pitching staff after the game, demanding that they work harder in between appearances.
"It has to start with these guys wanting to improve, and that means working in between their outings. They have to take the initiative on finding ways to improve. And, you know, we're not asking for anything drastic. Just throw the ball within the 17 inches that we're given. We really struggled with just throwing competitive pitches tonight, and that has to change."
Offensively speaking, the Panthers were immediately silenced following their one-run first inning, not recording another hit until a ninth-inning, pinch-hit single by Blake Soria (Benedictine University / Homer Glen, Ill.). With the Panthers swinging ultra-hot bats entering Thursday's matchup, four collective hits along with a lone run to boot completely opposed the team's previous sweet-swinging stretch of games. Valdez feels that tonight's pitching situation may have also contributed to the Panthers' power outage.
"Look, their guy [Johnny Vesevick] did very well, and I'm not trying to take anything away from him when I say this. But when pitchers can't get it over the plate continuously, that's the quickest way to demoralize a team. So, as well as their pitcher did, I think a contributing factor to our lack of success offensively was the fact that we were just demoralized because of that ten-run inning. And that's going to happen when our guys can't compete on the mound."
As for the Panthers, they'll look to get back into the win column before Saturday's MCL All-Star Game with a home contest against the Joliet Generals on Friday night. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. on the Panthers Broadcast Network, available via Facebook Live.
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