By: Jon Zaghloul
Crestwood, Ill. – July 31, 2019 – For numerous teams throughout the Midwest Collegiate League, the season's final week proves to be hectic, especially when, at the outset, four playoff spots are on the line. Teams like the DuPage County Hounds, whom the Panthers matched up against on Wednesday evening, are in the midst of a frenzied fight for the league's fourth and final playoff spot. Therefore, with the need to win out in order to make the postseason, the assumption was that their task would be helped by facing a cellar-dwelling Crestwood team. In the end, however, it was the Panthers who played spoiler on Wednesday night, limiting the Hounds to just two runs, while comfortably walking away with an 8-2 victory.
Crestwood's incredible win began with a splendid pitching performance from Ethan Soderna (Ohio Wesleyan University / Chicago, Ill.). In what was most likely his final appearance of the season, Soderna lasted seven strong innings, throwing an astounding 115 pitches, while surrendering just one earned run. Adding to his already-impressive evening, Soderna firmly etched his name into the Panthers' history book, breaking the franchise record for innings pitched in a single-season. Ryan McGrath (South Suburban College / Oak Lawn, Ill.) would later enter the game in relief, twirling two innings of one-run (zero earned) baseball to finish off DuPage County. Manager Isaac Valdez was proud of Soderna's successful start, along with his All-Star caliber season as a whole.
"Ethan beat a very good team today," said Valdez. "He kept their bats very quiet, and that's all that counts. It was really a stress-free game. He did a great job all year for us; he was an All-Star, and he continued to be an All-Star in the second half. I'm sure he's going to do great things at school next year."
At the plate, the Panthers were relatively quiet until the fifth inning, scoring two runs off of a wild pitch, and an RBI triple by Nick Doman (Butler University / Chicago, Ill.). The offense would begin to materialize in the fifth, however, as Blake Soria (Benedictine University / Homer Glen, Ill.) ripped a two-RBI single to left field, giving Crestwood a 4-0 lead at the time. Both Tim Fauth (North Park University / Elk Grove, Ill.) and D'Vante Glenn (Coe College / Chicago, Ill.) would also record RBIs in the inning, thus totaling four runs throughout the frame. Ray Hilbrich (Purdue University-Northwest / Schererville, Ind.), who recorded three hits on the day, also scored as one of the runs in the fifth.
"Jumping out ahead early really helped us out," said Valdez. "In our big inning, though, we took advantage of their mental mistakes and hit the ball hard, giving us four runs in that inning. From there, luckily, it was smooth sailing."
Although the Panthers are not vying for a playoff spot at the moment, they're perfectly content with their role as spoiler throughout the remainder of the season. In fact, Valdez echoed that sentiment, praising his players for giving it their all, despite the current circumstances.
"Our guys play the game the right way," said Valdez. "They don't give any at-bats away, and that's something that I respect and appreciate as a coach. That's why we're able to play spoiler, because our guys will always play hard and give it their all regardless of circumstance."
The Panthers' next game is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday night against the Bloomington Bobcats. Crestwood will play a doubleheader against Bloomington, with both games occurring at The Corn Crib. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Jon Zaghloul on the Panthers' Broadcast Network, available via Facebook Live.
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