By: Will Trubshaw
Chicago, Ill. – Aug. 8, 2019 – No matter what the final score, the end of a season always feels sort of abrupt, especially when you put together a regular season like the Vikings did.
In the end, the Vikings showed tremendous fight, almost coming all the way back from down 11-3 to walk off the Oilmen Thursday and advance to the MCL championship. Instead, the Northwest Indiana Oilmen hung on to an 11-10 victory to sneak into the Championship game.
The loss marked the end of the Vikings season in the semifinals for the second straight year, both times at the hands of the Oilmen. But for Letourneau and the Vikings, this season’s early exit was far from a disappointment.
“All year long we grinded. We battled one through nine and it was no different today. We could have easily quit down 11-3,” Letourneau said. “I thought last year I had a great group; this year was better. Everybody’s well coached, well taught, well respected, have a lot of fun. It tells the story when these guys come to play every day. They know how to win, and they know how to treat each other. You just can’t ask for a better group.”
The winner-take-all Game 3 seemed destined for a bizarre finish from the beginning, when the Oilmen began their day with a double and home run on the first two batters of the game to take a 2-0 lead.
Vikings starter Zach Litke (Concordia Chicago/Oak Lawn, Ill.) stabilized over the next couple innings and got some help from the offense when Billy Curtis (Moraine Valley/Lockport, Ill.) hit a ball off the top of the left field wall for a 2-run homer of his own, knotting the game at two.
The tie did not last long as the Oilmen went on an offensive rampage the next four innings, hitting four more home runs while scoring eight runs to increase their lead to 11-3. Christian Bolhuis (Wheaton College/Oak lawn, Ill.) and Mike Tobin (Concordia Chicago/Hickory Hills, Ill.) were both tattooed in their relief appearances, with Bolhuis giving up a solo shot in his lone inning of work, and Tobin surrendering three in his three innings of work.
“They had 18 hits, they came out swinging, swinging, swinging. They hit the ball out of the park. Credit to them, they were the better team today, but we have no quit,” Letourneau said.
The Vikings showed some signs of life in the bottom half of the seventh, when Justin Rios (North Central College/Lemont, Ill.) singled in two runs to draw the Vikings closer at 11-5.
Jaime Prieto (Kishwaukee College/Chicago, Ill.) came in to throw scoreless innings in the eighth and ninth, opening the door for the Vikings to close in on a comeback. Dashon Moore (U of I Springfield/South Holland, Ill.) did his part in the eighth, launching a three-run home run (the seventh of the game between the two teams) to make it an 11- 8 game going into the ninth.
With a man on and two outs, Anthony Rios (Lewis University/Lemont, Ill.) lined a ball back to the pitcher, who dropped the ball and would subsequently leave the game with a bloody chin.
The Oilmen, entirely out of pitching options turned to their catcher Ben Berenda to record the final out.
It proved to be near impossible, as Joe Curci (RPI/Chicago, Ill.) reached on an error to load the bases. Moore was then hit by a pitch to bring in a run. Steve Insley (Moraine Valley/Chicago, Ill.) singled in another run to make it a 11-10 game. And with the winning run at second, Curtis stepped into the box. However, he just got under an 0-1 pitch and flew out to center to end the game.
Though it was not the storybook ending the Vikings had hoped for, the Vikings went out the only way they knew how, putting up a fight like they had so many times before.
“You can’t ask for anything better with a group. It was just fitting how we were that close all year long,” Letourneau said. “We had great at-bats and that’s why we were able to get the winning run in scoring position and you can’t ask for anything better than that.”
With the championship round set for a 6:15 p.m. start in Bloomington on Friday between the Bobcats and Oilmen, the Vikings can look on with satisfaction knowing that they took another step closer to capturing their fourth MCL title, and that great things lie in store for the next season and beyond.
It seems like just a matter of time before the Vikings find themselves back on top.
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