By: Ryan Zimmerman
Hammond, Ind. – The crowd at Dowling Park was treated to a thrilling game between the MCL Minutemen and Southland Vikings. Both teams matched each other blow for blow through all nine innings, but the pulled out the result in the end, handing the Minutemen to a 7-6 loss.
“At the end of the game, I kept everything positive,” manager Jack Murphy said. “I could not have asked for anything more from the guys today. We competed the whole game, we had runners in scoring position in seven different innings, we barreled up a lot of baseballs. Everybody who played did their job.”
Patient hitting has been a hallmark of the Minutemen offense throughout the early stages of the season and their effort against the Vikings was no exception. In addition to their 13 hits, they drew five walks and made the opposing pitchers throw a combined 170 pitches. This marks their second consecutive game with double-digit hits.
“We’ve looked really good at the plate early on,” Murphy said. “Nobody was chasing bad pitches, and everybody made hard contact. Everybody is being a team player in the batter’s box and doing what they can to get on base and keep the line moving.”
On the mound, Murphy relied heavily on young pitchers who lacked any college experience. Recent St. Laurence High School graduate Cole Anderson (Maryville/Homewood, Ill.) made his first-ever collegiate start and did not disappoint. He allowed four runs on four hits over 4 1/3 innings, mixing in four strikeouts. He did not allow a hit until the final batter he faced. Cade Turner (Illinois-Springfield/Frankfort, Ill.), a 2020 graduate of Lincoln-Way East High School, came on in relief and threw a good 2 2/3 innings, permitting just one earned run to cross home plate on four hits and striking out two. Matthew Lelito (Kankakee CC/Merrillville, Ind.) pitched one inning as well.
“Cole [Anderson] was outstanding,” Murphy said in praise of his starter. “I left him in a little too long because he had a no-hitter going and I wanted to get each and every out I could from him. He gave us an excellent chance to win.”
While the Minutemen hitters made their presence felt, it was their stellar defense that had an even bigger impact on the game. Multiple players flashed the leather, but Malik Peters (Northern Illinois/Calumet City, Ill.) and Ryan Howe (Purdue/Mount Prospect, Ill.) stole the show. Peters robbed Vikings shortstop Dashon Moore of certain extra bases with a diving catch in center field, and Howe made multiple diving stops at third base to do the same.
“I practice those plays all the time, and it helped me get my glove to those balls today,” Howe said of his defensive heroics. “I’ve been trying to get to the point where those plays become routine, and today my reactions just took over. I was just trying my best to make plays for my team so we can win.”
The Minutemen jumped out to an early lead, striking twice in the first inning. A Christian Peña (Eastern Illinois/Davenport, Iowa) RBI groundout and Howe triple provided a two-run cushion in the early stages. The triple marked the first extra-base hit in franchise history. Mike Koszewski (Cincinnati/Oak Brook, Ill.) provided more insurance in the fourth with an RBI groundout of his own, pushing the Minutemen lead to three.
However, the Vikings fired back in the fifth, sending 10 men to bat for a five-run outburst. They augmented their advantage with an RBI single in the sixth and a sacrifice fly in the eighth, taking a four-run edge into the final frame.
Down but not out, the Minutemen put together a late rally and made the Vikings sweat through every out. A Peters leadoff triple and back-to-back RBI knocks from Peña and Brad Miller (Illinois-Springfield/Oak Forest, Ill.) kickstarted the offense, cutting the deficit to three. Howe came up clutch with a bases-loaded walk to plate score one more, and a Tyler Struck (Murray State College/Orland Park, Ill.) ground ball brought in pinch-runner Mike Bolton Jr. (Purdue/Calumet City, Ill.) Unfortunately, though, that was all they could muster, as the Vikings held on for the win, halting the Minutemen comeback effort and cementing a 7-6 victory.
“We just never gave up and battled the whole way,” Murphy noted. “Throughout the game, and especially in that ninth inning, everyone in the dugout was on their feet and cheering their teammates on. All the guys just wanted to fight and win for each other. Things just didn’t go our way today; I can’t ask for anything more from this team.”
The Minutemen make their way to Munster Babe Ruth Field tomorrow to host the Northwest Indiana Oilmen at 2:00 p.m. Be sure to catch all the action on the Northwest Indiana Oilmen Broadcast Network via Facebook Live with Brandon Vickrey, Andrew Fish, and Ryan Zimmerman providing the call.
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