By: Jon Zaghloul
Crestwood, Ill. – July 12, 2019 – The Midwest Collegiate League, a union of six quality baseball teams that play each other at least eight different times throughout a 50-game schedule, is bound to exhibit parity of all sorts. On some days, the league's top team predictably quashes the league's cellar-dweller, but on other occasions, the complete opposite occurs. Case in point, the Crestwood Panthers, on Thursday night, allowed ten runs in the second inning of their matchup against the Northwest Indiana Oilmen, later losing in uneventful fashion. On Friday night, however, it was Crestwood that would perform the pillaging, striking for seven runs in the game's fourth inning, en route to a comfortable 10-2 win over the Joliet Generals.
The Panthers had already scratched across three runs, courtesy of a Mike Machnic (Kankakee CC / Chicago, Ill.) two-RBI single back in the first inning, and a Reggie Brock Jr. (Chicago State / Chicago, Ill.) solo home run to deep left field in the third. Crestwood's fourth inning scoring barrage, however, began subtly, with a Colin Spranger (Ohio Wesleyan University / Gurnee, Ill.) infield single. Following another base-hit by Maurey Garrett (Heartland CC / Flossmoor, Ill.), Ray Hilbrich (Purdue University-Northwest / Schererville, Ind.) recorded an RBI groundout, plating Spranger, and moving Garrett to second. The true tirade then truly began to take shape as Brock, Nick Anderson (Kankakee CC / Highland, Ind.) and Blake Soria (Benedictine University / Homer Glen, Ill.) each contributed an RBI single, RBI double, and RBI single, respectively, before prompting a pitching change. The adjustment on the mound would prove to be moot, as the Panthers added three more runs before it was all set and done.
"Our hitters did what we typically do," said Manager Isaac Valdez. "We really just hit the ball hard, and we've been doing it for this entire week. I like the fact that we're not just settling for singles; lots of our hits this week have been for extra bases, and that includes tonight. We did a great job at the plate."
Crestwood's outstanding offensive production took some of the spotlight away from what was a masterful outing on the mound thanks to Isaiah Rivera (St. Xavier University / Chicago, Ill.). Making his Panthers debut on Friday night, Rivera twirled seven innings of one-run baseball, while tying a single-game franchise record with 12 strikeouts. In relief, Michael Kokoszka (South Mountain CC / Westmont, Ill.) added a whopping five strikeouts over just two innings of work, shutting the door on what was a dominant evening for Panthers pitching.
"Isaiah threw 62 percent of his pitches for strikes tonight," said Valdez. "He challenged hitters, and was overpowering on the mound with his fastball, curveball, and slider. He really set the tone for us tonight, and did a great job overall."
On a separate, but related note, with Friday night representing the Panthers' seventh win of the season, they have already exceeded their 2018 win total, despite there being nearly a month left of baseball. For a Crestwood team that showcased some struggles early on, the win total is not just a number; it represents validation, and continuous steps in the right direction.
"As much as everybody wants to win, at this level, it's about developing talent," said Valdez. "It's about learning something new; maybe it's a new pitch, maybe it's a different mental approach at the plate, but it's all about that development. Yes, we hope that these things can translate into wins, but if it doesn't, it doesn't mean that you weren't successful. Look, even though we don't have as many wins on the year as we'd like, I still consider this a very successful season."
Up next for the Panthers is a well-deserved All-Star Break, before a return to action on Tuesday night against the Joliet Generals once again. On Saturday night, however, five Panthers players will be participating in the MCL All-Star Game, taking place at 7 p.m. at Oil City Stadium. Brandon Vickrey and Jon Zaghloul will have the call on the Oilmen Broadcast Network, available via Facebook Live.
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