By: Jon Zaghloul
Chicago, Ill. – July 23, 2019 – On paper, Crestwood's Tuesday night matchup against the Southland Vikings was tabbed to be a pitcher's duel. With Eddie Wilkins (University of Illinois-Springfield / Braidwood, Ill.) slated to add to his MCL lead in strikeouts, and Jake Ruppert looking to continue his dominant stretch on the mound, it looked as if impressive pitching and meager offensive output would serve as two prevailing storylines. Instead, however, Wilkins was ejected in what was a fiery fifth inning, yet the Panthers came out on top 3-2.
Through the game's first four innings, both Wilkins and Ruppert masterfully matched each other. Wilkins allowed only two runs on four hits, adding three strikeouts, while Ruppert countered with an identical line. His only blemish was an astounding two-run home run by Nick Anderson (Kankakee CC / Highland, Ind.) that would tie the game back up in the third, plus two hits from Nick Doman (Butler University / Chicago, Ill.).
Tensions boiled over, however, in the fifth inning, as Wilkins was extremely displeased with Southland's attempt to bunt for a hit. Thus, in retaliation, Wilkins fired two consecutive fastballs near the head of batter Dalton Crowder, before hitting him on the ensuing pitch. An immediate on-field eruption occurred, as Wilkins was ejected by home plate umpire Andre Morgan, and proceeded to confront the entirety of the Vikings' bench. He then instigated an argument with a Southland spectator before emphatically throwing his glove across the field, and leaving the ballpark. Although the current consequences for his actions are unclear, Manager Isaac Valdez had some choice words for Wilkins' shocking outburst.
"Eddie lost his mind today," said Valdez. "There was no reason for it. It was the fifth inning, baseball was being played, and it was uncalled for. As far as his status goes for the rest of the season, the only thing that I can confirm is that there will be a suspension, per league rules."
Wilkins' ejection aside, Crestwood built off of that unfortunate event, as Kent Evans (Harper College / Chicago, Ill.) entered the game with virtually no time to warm-up, yet contributed three shutout innings in relief, scattering only one hit in total. To add to the theatrics, starting shortstop Colin Spranger (Ohio Wesleyan University / Gurnee, Ill.) made his second pitching appearance of the season, further quieting the Vikings' bats, while earning the game's save.
"Now, Colin did pitch a bit in high school," Valdez joked, "but what he did tonight was very impressive. He was extremely sharp, threw lots of strikes, and kept them off balance. I had a feeling; I had confidence in him, and I rolled the dice. Fortunately, it all worked out."
At the plate, the Panthers were quiet following the Anderson home run, yet the unit materialized in the eighth inning. Austin De La Cruz (Beloit College / Kailua Kona, Hawaii) led-off the frame with a pinch-hit double, and after an ensuing single by Anderson, Ray Hilbrich (Purdue University-Northwest / Schererville) provided the knock-out punch, driving in De La Cruz via a sacrifice fly.
"I saw an opportunity to get Austin into the game, and he's been doing well as of late," said Valdez. "So, I had faith in him, and he made me look smart. He came through for us in a big spot."
The Panthers will continue their treacherous stretch of seven games in seven days on Wednesday night against the DuPage County Hounds. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. from Howie Minas Field on the Panthers' Broadcast Network, available via Facebook Live.
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