By: Brandon Vickrey
Whiting, Ind. – July 11, 2020 – Northwest Indiana Oilmen manager Chris Cunningham knew it was only a matter of time for outfielder Kendal Ewell (Eastern Kentucky / Calumet City, Ill.).
The 2019 Colorado Rockies draft pick chose the right moment to break through from an early-season slump, cracking a base hit to the left-field warning track with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to send the Oilmen to a 4-3 victory over the Southland Vikings at Oil City Stadium. Ewell’s smash allowed Nick Anderson (Kankakee / Highland, Ind.) – who had drawn a two-out walk to start the rally – to waltz home and score the winning run.
“I noticed the pitcher was struggling,” Ewell said. “My past few at-bats I had been struggling, so I was trying to find a fastball to barrel up, and that’s what I got. I’ve been trying to swing at my pitch and make sure I’m seeing the ball. There’s a difference between when I miss and I swung at a strike and when I swing at a ball. It’s all about seeing the ball.”
Ewell entered the game hitting just .063 over the first week of the season and was retired in his first three plate appearances, but stroked a key hit in the eighth before the game-winner in the ninth.
“It means a lot to see him come through,” Cunningham said. “Everyone is pulling for him and everyone knows what he’s capable of; he’s a super-talented kid who had a slow start. It’s extremely nice to see him come through in a clutch spot like that.”
The Oilmen pitching staff continued to dominate, as starter Kyle Iwinski (Griffith, Ind. / Griffith) went four innings and allowed two runs (both unearned) on just one hit while striking out five. Luke Pappas (Western Michigan / Chicago, Ill.) came out of the bullpen for two scoreless frames without allowing a hit, then Joe Graziano (Butler / Schererville, Ind.) earned the win after three innings of one-hit, one-run ball. The trio of Oilmen hurlers combined to toss a two-hitter.
“Our pitchers managed to find very few barrels today,” Cunningham said. “They threw the ball extremely well. We’ve got a lot of good arms. We’ve found a way to throw strikes in some key situations. We’ve just got to keep it going and stay healthy. Guys have been working on the side and doing all the right things.”
The Vikings (6-2) pushed across single tallies in the first and fourth innings to jump out to a two-run lead, but the Oilmen tied it in the fifth on a two-run double by Angelo Cantelo (Lewis / Blue Island, Ill.) It stayed two-all until the two teams traded eighth-inning tallies, with NWI’s coming courtesy of a sacrifice fly by Tre’ Hondras (Michigan / Flossmoor, Ill.).
Southland starter Jake Karaba was nearly unhittable for his first four innings before running into some trouble in the fifth and leaving after five frames of two-run, three-hit baseball during which he walked four and struck out nine. Justin Rios took the loss after recording the final out of the eighth and first two outs of the ninth in succession before allowing back-to-back four-pitch walks, which set the stage for Ewell’s heroics.
“It was a heated baseball game against a known league rival,” Cunningham said. “It was definitely good to come out on top. It was an excited baseball game, and hopefully everyone enjoyed it.”
Coincidentally, the Oilmen walk-off win came on the seven-year anniversary of a memorable 2-1 walk-off victory over those same Vikings on July 11, 2013 that came on a squeeze bunt by Anthony Bova in the bottom of the ninth.
Ewell went 2-for-5 to lead the way, while Tommy Windt (South Suburban / Orland Park, Ill.) reached base three times via a hit and two walks.
The Oilmen return to the diamond on Sunday at 4:10 p.m. against the Joliet Generals. Tickets are available on NWIOilmen.com, and those who cannot attend can watch via Facebook Live with Brandon Vickrey and Alex Coil on the call.
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