By: Will Trubshaw
Chicago, Ill. – July 23, 2019 – With the MCL season entering the home stretch, the Vikings opened up a crucial eight-game-in-six-day stretch Tuesday against the Crestwood Panthers.
Despite a hard-fought battle and some tense moments on the field, the Vikings couldn’t find the same offensive magic they had last week against the Panthers, losing this time around 3-2.
The loss dropped the Vikings to 18-12 on the year and into a tie for first with the Bloomington Bobcats, who defeated the NWI Oilmen Tuesday.
“I think we have to do a better job with urgency. Our urgency in the dugout and at the plate was just not good. We have to want it more, and that’s something we lacked today,” said Vikings manager Dave Letourneau.
There appeared to be some urgency in the early innings, as Jake Ruppert (St. Xavier University/Tinley Park, Ill.) came out on fire, striking out four of the first six batters he faced. In the bottom half of the second, PJ Raines (Santa Rosa Junior College/Chicago, Ill.) and Dalton Crowder (Lewis University/Romeoville, Ill.), a new addition to the Vikings squad, each notched RBI singles to put Southland in front 2-0.
The lead was short lived, with the Panthers taking advantage of a two run homer to tie the game at two. It was the lone blemish for Ruppert in his no-decision, as he went seven strong again, picking up six strikeouts and allowing just six hits.
“The pitching was outstanding, but we got to do a better job of adding on after 2-0,” Letourneau said.
In the bottom of the fifth with the game still tied at 2, play was halted for close to 10 minutes after tempers. Panthers starter Eddie Wilkins, supposedly miffed at the Vikings attempts to bunt, threw back to back pitches high and inside to Crowder with the second pitch clipping him. After seeing both Anthony Rios (Lewis Unviersity/Lemont, Ill.) and Max Malley (University of Evansville/Frankfort, Ill.) brushed back by similar pitches near their heads, home plate umpire Andre Morgan ejected Wilkins from the game.
Wilkins then tossed his glove aside and made a bee-line for the Vikings dugout where he had a few choice words for Letourneau and the Vikings, having to be restrained by teammates. Wilkins then broke the grasp of his teammates and approached a spectator before again being restrained by teammates.
“We’re going out there trying to do baseball things, win baseball games and something like that happens. It’s uncalled for, it’s disrespectful. I’ll just leave it at that,” Letourneau said.
The umpires then ordered everyone back in their dugouts with the threat of ejection, before talking to both Letourneau and Crestwood skipper Isaac Valdez. Order was finally restored and play ultimately resumed without further incident.
Both teams remained quiet until the eighth, when the Panthers finally broke through, thanks to a leadoff double and single, had men at the corners with no outs. A sacrifice fly brought in the lead run to make it a 3-2 lead for Crestwood.
They would not need any more support, as they brought in position player Colin Spranger to record the final six outs of the contest, and he did so with relative ease facing just eight batters in his two innings of work.
The Vikings loss was just their second to Crestwood this year, as opposed to five wins. However the timing of the loss was less than ideal, with the Vikings travelling down to Bloomington for a first place battle on Wednesday against the Bobcats.
The game feels sort of like a must win too, with a potential losing skid in the midst of this tight window of games turning first place into fourth in a heartbeat for the Vikings.
“We’re about to find out who we are as a pitching staff. Eight games in six days, we’re about to find out what we have on the mound going into the playoffs,” Letourneau said.
Southland’s now crucial matchup with the Bloomington Bobcats is set for a 6:15 first pitch from O’Neil Park in Bloomington. Will Trubshaw will have the call on the Southland Vikings Broadcasting network.
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