By: Ryan Zimmerman
Midlothian, Ill. – As they’ve done in all their first six games, the MCL Minutemen swung the bats well and went blow-for-blow with another opponent. However, the Crestwood Panthers proved too difficult to overcome as the Minutemen took an unlucky 9-8 defeat.
“Everything in my post-game talk was positive today,” manager Jack Murphy said. “The players played really well today, that’s just a hard loss to take. We battled the entire time and never stopped playing hard. Luck just wasn’t on our side.”
By the time Matthew Lelito (Kankakee CC/Merrillville, Ind.) finished his warmup tosses in the Minutemen bullpen, the skies opened up over Howie Minas Field, forcing a 20-minute rain delay before he threw his first pitch. Having been forced out of his natural rhythm, the Panthers got to him early, jumping out to a 5-0 after their first two turns at-bat.
However, once Lelito recovered his mojo, he was lights-out. He put up zeros in each of his next three innings, permitting just three hits during that stretch and striking out a single-game team record eight batters.
“Matt is a true gamer,” Murphy said. “He threw a lot of strikes, didn’t get behind in counts, and he kept the other guys off-balance. I’m really proud of the way he threw out there.”
Through five innings of work, Lelito’s pitch count sat at 103. However, Murphy elected to keep him in the game. That decision proved wise as Lelito set the Panthers down in order for his only perfect inning.
“He [Lelito] was going to punch me in the face if I took him out,” Murphy said with a laugh. “He really didn’t want to come out, and he wasn’t showing any signs of fatigue in the dugout after five [innings]. I thought he looked locked in, he proved that to me in the sixth.”
Given that five-run deficit at the outset, the Minutemen wasted little time climbing their way back into the ballgame. Brendan Collins (Wisconsin-Parkside/Lemont, Ill.) got them on the board in the second inning by way of a run-scoring double. They followed that up with a three-run third aided by stellar plate discipline, wild pitches, and Panther errors. A Malik Peters (Northern Illinois/Calumet City, Ill.) sacrifice fly the following frame brought both teams even at five.
“I’ve been most impressed with the way these guys play from behind,” Murphy said. “They never give up. There’s never a defeated look on their faces, they never hang their heads, they just go to work and fight for each and every pitch.”
The score remained deadlocked for the next two innings until Crestwood reclaimed their lead in the seventh inning. Following two Panther runs and a bases-loaded, no-out situation, Murphy turned to Cade Turner (Illinois-Springfield/Frankfort, Ill.) to limit the damage. He fanned the first hitter he faced, and if not for the Howie Minas Field dirt, Peters would have turned a sacrifice fly into a double play. Another run crossed home plate on an error, but Turner’s efforts kept the Panthers from breaking the game open.
He threw two more innings in which he did not allow a run or hit. “He did a great job from pitch one,” Murphy said of his reliever. “Even with the bases loaded, he came out and attacked. If not for some bad luck he would not have given up any runs. His three innings easily kept us in it.”
The Minutemen hit the comeback trail once again in the eighth, striking for three runs with two outs. A Peters single and Mike Koszewski (Cincinnati/Oak Brook, Ill.) walk set up a Christian Peña (Eastern Illinois/Davenport, Iowa) RBI single. Ryan McCoy (Wabash Valley College/Frankfort, Ill.) recorded a run-scoring base hit of his own before Ryan Howe (Purdue/Mount Prospect, Ill.) knocked in Peña, scorching a double to the left-center field wall.
However, the Minutemen offense could go no further. Mike Bolton (Purdue/Calumet City, Ill.) drew a walk to put the tying run on base, but the Panthers stranded him at first to end, cementing a 9-8 win.
Despite the loss, Murphy was pleased with his team’s effort at the plate. Their 12 hits mark the Minutemen’s third double-digit hit game in their first six.
“We’ve been swinging the bat well all year, and today was no exception,” Murphy said. “It felt like we had more hard-hit outs than the Panthers had hits. We found a lot of barrels, but balls just didn’t fall for us.”
The Minutemen return to Midlothian once again tomorrow as they host the Southland Vikings at Howie Minas Field at 5 p.m. Be sure to tune into the broadcast on the MCL Minutemen Broadcast Network via Facebook Live as Ryan Zimmerman and Jack Theil will have the call.
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