By: Jon Zaghloul
Crestwood, Ill. – July 25, 2019 – Based on the last meeting between the Crestwood Panthers and Southland Vikings, one in which an ejection and near benches-clearing brawl occurred, tensions were seemingly high entering Thursday night's matchup between both teams. In the end, however, no malevolent incidents took place, and the Panthers, instead, fell victim to an influx of walks and lack of timely hitting en route to an 8-2 loss.
Crestwood began the game on an encouraging note, taking the initial lead on a Ray Hilbrich (Purdue University-Northwest / Schererville, Ind.) RBI single, plating Colin Spranger (Ohio Wesleyan University / Gurnee, Ill.), and giving the Panthers an early 1-0 lead. In the next half-inning, though, the Vikings stormed right back with two runs of their own, before Spranger contributed an RBI single of his own to tie the game at two, going into the fifth. Unfortunately for Crestwood, that was the point at which Southland would begin to pull away.
After retiring the inning's first two hitters with ease, Jason Trbovic (Loras College / Oak Lawn, Ill.) ran into some trouble, issuing two walks, while surrendering an additional single to load the bases. That set the table for the Vikings' Jake Schroeder and Logan Anderson, who would go on to drive in four runs throughout the frame, pushing the Vikings in front 6-2. When it was all set and done, Panthers' pitchers issued eight free passes over the length of the game, three of which turned into runs for Southland. Manager Isaac Valdez knew that his team's high walk total hurt their chances to win.
"It's true, the walks really hurt us tonight," said Valdez. "We just gave them too many opportunities to get on base, and they took advantage of it."
On a positive note, Michael Kokoszka (South Mountain CC / Westmont, Ill.), who relieved Trbovic on the mound beginning in the fifth inning, twirled four innings of one-run baseball, while throwing 69 percent of his pitches for strikes. For someone who has encountered command issues throughout the season, Kokoszka's performance was well-received amongst his teammates and manager. In fact, Valdez could not be happier with "Ko-Ko's" overall outing, along with his ability to preserve pitching for the upcoming slate of games.
"He came through big-time for us today when we needed him," said Valdez. "I thought he threw the ball really well, and he and I communicated in the last few days about adding targeting certain things to work on. I think he took that out to the mound today, and did a great job. This is the 'Ko-Ko' that I hoped to have all year long, but I'm happy that he's begun to find it on the mound."
At the plate, the Panthers had multiple opportunities to overcome their high walk count on the mound, but failed to record that one timely hit. In total, Crestwood left 11 runners on base throughout the evening, thus resulting in a situation in which they nearly matched Southland in hits, yet lost by six runs.
"It was tough tonight, because you feel like you're on the verge of coming back, but it doesn't always work out," said Valdez. "That the thing when you have the parity as we do in this league, though. The ones at the end of the day who give up more walks and don't take advantage of their opportunities, are the ones that are going to be in last place. Unfortunately, we landed on the wrong side of that tonight."
The Panthers will look to get back to their winning ways against the Bloomington Bobcats from O'Neil Park tomorrow night at 6 p.m. Due to internet connectivity issues, the game will not be available on Facebook Live. Please follow the Panthers' GameChanger account for updates throughout the game.
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