By: Ryan Zimmerman
Hammond, Ind – Eager to shake off Wednesday’s loss, the MCL Minutemen (3-8) put it all together at Dowling Park versus the league-leading Southland Vikings (9-4). Through a combination of strong hitting throughout the lineup and excellent pitching with runners on base, the Minutemen pulled through for a hard-fought 9-4 win.
“This win feels really good,” manager Jack Murphy said. “I enjoyed watching them go out there and play their best, especially after a game where we didn’t play to the level we’re capable of playing. To come back today and see how they responded was awesome.”
Minutemen bats returned to form against Vikings pitching, tallying 14 hits and three walks. While every hitter in the order reached base at least once, Christian Peña (Eastern Illinois/Davenport, Iowa) took it upon himself to shoulder the offensive load. He notched three hits, falling just a home run short of hitting for the cycle, and knocked in two key early runs. His run-scoring double in the first inning set the game’s tone early.
“I just felt really comfortable in the [batter’s] box and saw the ball well today,” Peña said of his performance. “I tried to have good plate discipline and wait for my pitch. Once I got it, the goal was not to do too much, put it in play where it’s pitched, and fortunately it led to some runs.”
“It’s a lot of fun to watch Christian’s progress,” Murphy said of his former player at Eastern Illinois. “I expected him to be one of our top guys, I’ve seen him succeed at the college level and I know what he’s capable of on the field. It’s great to see him carry over all that success here this summer.”
Peña’s run batted in was just one of four hits that inning. Immediately afterward, Brad Miller (Illinois-Springfield/Oak Forest, Ill.) followed up for two more runs on an opposite-field single. Another run scored on a groundout to cement a four-run opening frame. A Peña triple one inning later gave the Minutemen a five-run cushion.
As the hitters came through with runners in scoring position, Nic Vitiritti (Carthage College/Lansing, Ill.) specialized in keeping the Vikings from doing the same. In his second start of the season, he allowed three runs over four innings, striking out three and stranding eight runners on base.
“Nic pitched a good game today,” Murphy said. “He threw a solid four innings, I wanted to get him through five, but his pitch count just got too high. A few things didn’t go his way, there were couple misplayed balls in the field and some cheap hits, but he battled through it all.”
Holding onto a 5-2 lead through four innings, the Minutemen ran into trouble in the fifth. The Vikings loaded the bases with no outs, forcing Murphy to turn to Matt Blaney (Illinois Wesleyan/Tinley Park, Ill.) out of the bullpen. That decision proved wise as he worked out of danger, permitting just one run to score and stranding Southland runners on all three bases.
“I’m not usually someone that throws four innings, but I felt really good today,” Blaney said of his performance. “Coach [Murphy] had faith in me to keep going, and I’m glad his confidence in me paid off. Things worked out for the team, and we ended up getting the win as a team. That’s a great sign for us.”
In Blaney’s four innings in relief he scattered five hits, striking out five to one walk in a winning effort. Like Vitiritti, he also excelled in preventing runs, enabling just one Viking to touch home plate and stranding five on the basepaths.
“Matt comes in every single game throwing hard and throwing strikes,” Murphy said. “It’s a coach’s dream to have a guy who can run it up into the low 90’s and hit his spots in every at-bat. He’s normally a guy who gives two innings at a time and pitches well, so to get four out of him was huge for us today.”
Inspired by his clutch pitching, the Minutemen offense sprung to life in the late innings. Lukas Broske (Lake Land College/West Bend, Wis.) added a key insurance run in the eighth inning by smacking a double to the left-center field wall. Although the Vikings responded with their lone run off Blaney in the bottom of that inning, MCL batters caught fire in the ninth. Facing 2018 MCL All-Star Game starting pitcher and Pitcher of the Year runner-up Anthony Rogers, Brennan Brogni (Illinois-Springfield/Flagstaff, Ariz.) recorded his first RBI in 2020, a triple which scored Brendan Collins (Wisconsin-Parkside/Lemont, Ill.) Malik Peters (Northern Illinois/Calumet City, Ill.) picked up his second double of the day to bring in Brogni before registering a run himself on a Mike Bolton (Purdue/Calumet City, Ill.) single. By the time the Minutemen finished their last turn at-bat, they led 9-4.
“Our hitting was consistent throughout all nine innings,” Murphy said. “But in the ninth, we got a lot of good swings off and found turf in the outfield. When you make good contact like we did that inning, good things tend to happen.”
That advantage was more than enough for Norman Standish (South Suburban College/Highland, Ind.) to finish off the Vikings. He tossed a scoreless ninth to seal the team’s third win.
The Minutemen cross state lines on Friday at 3 p.m. as they head to Gano Park in Chicago to host the Crestwood Panthers. In order to win their second game in a row, Murphy thinks the players need to continue to play the same way they have been early on.
“We just need to play as hard as we did today,” Murphy said. “Plain and simple.”
Watch all the action tomorrow live on the MCL Minutemen Broadcast Network. Ryan Zimmerman and Jon Zaghloul will have the call.
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