By: Ryan Zimmerman
Midlothian, Ill. – In the final game of their three-game homestand at Howie Minas Field, the MCL Minutemen (1-6) played another thrilling contest, this time against the league-leading Southland Vikings (7-2). While they fought valiantly and pushed their opposition to the brink, the Minutemen walked away with a heartbreaking 5-4 defeat, their third consecutive one-run loss.
“What else can I say except that the guys are so unlucky,” manager Jack Murphy said. “We played really well again. I told them again in the postgame huddle that I’m incredibly proud of them, and they have every right to be proud of themselves.”
Over their first seven games, quality pitching has become a Minutemen staple. When Jacob Frencl (Southeastern CC/Frankfort, Ill.) took the mound for his second start of the summer, he continued that trend. Though he allowed five runs in six innings of work, only one was earned, scattering six hits and striking out four in his second unfortunate loss.
“He [Frencl] came out and pitched another good game today,” Murphy said. “It was the start we expected from him. He attacked hitters from the get-go and pounded the strike zone. The Vikings found a few barrels here and there, but he worked around it with minimal damage. I never really sensed any struggle from him, he had a great day.”
As they have done in many games before, the Minutemen found themselves down early and found a way to make a quick comeback. After falling behind 2-0 early on two unearned runs, the Minutemen offense kicked into gear. Brennan Brogni (Illinois-Springfield/Flagstaff, Ariz.) got the lineup going with a one-out walk in the second inning and quickly advanced two bases on a stolen base and wild pitch. Mike Bolton (Purdue/Calumet City, Ill.) drove him in two batters later, lining a single to right field.
The top of the order picked things up where the bottom left off one inning later. Malik Peters (Northern Illinois/Calumet City, Ill.) led off with a walk and immediately stole two bases. A fielding error on that second steal enabled him to cross home plate. Mike Koszewski (Cincinnati/Oak Brook, Ill.) drew a base on balls and swiped a base as well, reaching third on a wild pitch. Ryan McCoy (Wabash Valley College/Frankfort, Ill.) brought him home via a groundout, giving the Minutemen a 3-2 edge.
However, their time in front did not last long. The Vikings tacked on two in the top of the fourth to take their lead back, forcing the Minutemen to once again play from behind.
Down one run, the Minutemen took to the comeback trail once again. Just as he did in the third inning, Kosziewski reached third base on a walk, stolen base, and wild pitch. This time, it took a hit to score him. Ryan Howe (Purdue/Mount Prospect, Ill.) notched his team-leading seventh RBI, tapping a ball down the third-base line and hustling down to first for a single. By the time Southland’s third baseman picked up the baseball, the game was tied at four.
Having lost their lead, the Vikings responded quickly to take it right back. A leadoff double in the sixth inning led to an RBI groundout, handing them a 5-4 advantage.
Wanting to keep the score as close as possible, Murphy turned to trusted relief arms Matt Blaney (Illinois Wesleyan/Tinley Park, Ill.) and Patrick Rafferty (Dubuque/Orland Park, Ill.) to hold the Vikings in check. In their three combined innings, they did just that. Both arms held Southland out of the hit column, and each recorded a strikeout. The duo is yet to allow an earned run in two appearances each.
“The bullpen was fantastic,” Murphy said. “They came out and threw hard, the Vikings didn’t have an answer for them. Those two look really good right now, I hope they can keep that streak going for a while.”
Down to their final three outs, the Minutemen got to work to keep the game alive. Christian Peña (Eastern Illinois/Davenport, Iowa) came off the bench and delivered a leadoff double. Brogni followed up with a perfectly placed bunt single and stole second base. Though it seemed they had all the momentum, misfortune struck at the worst possible moment. Two borderline strikeouts put their backs against the wall, and a scorching Matthew Uba (Concordia/Darien, Ill.) ground ball, the hardest-hit ball of the day, hit Vikings closer Mike Tobin in the forearm. The bodily contact slowed the ball down and allowed him to throw it to first, sealing another tough loss to take.
Despite recent results not going their way, the MCL Minutemen continue to play excellent, competitive baseball. Murphy is not worried about his team’s performance early in the 2020 Midwest Collegiate League season.
“There’s really not much else to our rough start than bad luck,” he said. “These guys continue to play hard and fight every game. They’re getting the results they want both at the plate and on the mound, but things just aren’t going their way. The luck just isn’t there.”
The Minutemen look to snap their losing streak as they host the Northwest Indiana Oilmen on Monday at Lansing Old Timer’s Sports Complex at 2 p.m. Be sure to catch every moment on the Northwest Indiana Oilmen Broadcast Network via Facebook Live with Brandon Vickrey and Ryan Zimmerman on the call.
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