By: Brandon Vickrey
Whiting, Ind. – July 4, 2020 – Northwest Indiana Oilmen fans had plenty to smile about on Saturday night at Oil City Stadium.
Not only did the Oilmen return, but they returned to their winning ways with a 5-3 victory over the MCL Minutemen on Opening Night. After the start of the season was delayed by COVID-19, the Oilmen managerial debut of Chris Cunningham was a successful one for the three-time Midwest Collegiate League champions.
Since pitchers hadn’t taken the mound in months, the Oilmen utilized five different hurlers. Starter Jack Guzek (Iowa / Manhattan, Ill.) worked three scoreless frames, yielding just one hit and striking out four.
“Jack looked good; he settled in,” Cunningham said. “That third inning was hit best one. He was mad at himself when I told him he had just 15 pitches left, and it was 10 for that inning. It was perfect for us to have a mature guy like that start on opening night.”
A string of talented arms came on in relief of Guzek, featuring Isaiah Coupet (Ohio State / Flossmoor, Ill.), Joe Graziano (Butler / Schererville, Ind.), Terry Busse Jr. (South Suburban / Valparaiso, Ind.) and Kyle Salley (Duke / Flossmoor, Ill.). Coupet picked up the win in relief after allowing two runs (one earned) on two hits in two innings with four strikeouts, while Salley nailed down the save with a scoreless ninth. Busse did not pitch in high school, but has transitioned to the mound and tossed an inning, allowing an unearned run on two hits in his pitching debut. Oilmen pitchers combined for 12 strikeouts.
“Coupet was great, Graziano did a really good job and Kyle Salley was Kyle Salley,” Cunningham said. “He came in and shoved. It was Busse’s first inning in his life, and he came in and pitched well. I’m sure his heart was pounding, so that’s impressive.”
The Oilmen grabbed the lead without the benefit of a hit in the first inning, but the Minutemen jumped in front with a pair in the top of the fifth. The key frame in the game was the bottom of the fifth, when the Oilmen scored three times including a key extra-base knock by Tommy Windt (South Suburban / Orland Park, Ill.) that drove in a run and capped a string of three straight hits.
Clay Thompson (Kankakee CC / Schererville, Ind.) knocked in an insurance tally with a sixth-inning single. Angelo Cantelo (Lewis / Blue Island, Ill.) had a multi-hit day to lead the way, accounting for two of the club’s six hits.
“There’s always a little nervousness in setting pitching up,” Cunningham said. “It was a good atmosphere and a good ballgame. I think tomorrow will feel more normal as we get the guys ready to play and keep their bodies healthy.”
The win marked Cunningham’s first as Oilmen manager after he previously managed in the league and won two MCL titles with the Southland Vikings from 2011-2014.
“I’ve always loved this place (Oil City Stadium),” Cunningham said. “I’ve always had good times here, and it definitely feels good to bring home the first win.”
The Oilmen will return to action on Sunday at 4:10 p.m. against the Joliet Generals. Fans are encouraged to print tickets in advance by visiting NWIOilmen.com. For those who cannot attend, Brandon Vickrey and Andrew Fish will have the call on the Oilmen Broadcasting Network.
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