By: Ryan Zimmerman
Chicago, Ill. – Just as they did the last time these two teams squared off, the MCL Minutemen (3-9) and Crestwood Panthers (4-8) played a thrilling game at the Ray and Joan Kroc Center. And just like their last matchup, the Panthers came away with a one-run win, a 5-4 final.
“We did a lot of good things out there today,” manager Jack Murphy said. “In the end, we just caught a lot of unlucky breaks, a lot of stuff didn’t go our way. The guys played a heck of a game, that just happens from time to time. I was happy with the way we played.”
From the get-go, these two teams could not be separated. Whenever one team found a way to put runs on the board, the other followed up almost immediately.
This trend began in the bottom of the second inning. In just his second game as a Minuteman, Patrick Doran (College of DuPage/Chicago, Ill.) wasted little time making his presence felt. He deposited a fastball over the right-field fence on his very first swing to give his team an early 1-0 lead.
“That swing felt really good, especially after not taking batting practice,” Doran said. “I got the same exact pitch yesterday, and I rolled over on it. I told myself coming into today that I’d be ready the next time I saw a pitch like that, so I got my hands underneath the baseball and let it fly.”
Though the Panthers answered right away in the next half inning, it didn’t take long for the Minutemen to restore their advantage. Mike Bolton (Purdue/Calumet City, Ill.) walked to lead off and immediately stole second base, his 10th steal on the season. A wild pitch advanced him to third before his Purdue teammate Ryan Howe (Purdue/Mount Prospect, Ill.) knocked him in on a groundout. On that swing, Howe pulled level with Christian Peña (Eastern Illinois/Davenport, Iowa) atop the team RBI leaderboard.
The score remained 2-1 in favor of the Minutemen through six innings in no small part due to a masterful outing from starter Matthew Lelito (Kankakee CC/Merrillville, Ind.). Over his first six innings on the mound, he scattered one run over six hits, striking out five Panthers in the process. He ended his day with eight innings under his belt, the longest start in franchise history.
“Matt was really good,” Murphy said. “He was throwing balls all over the strike zone and made batters earn their way on base. We didn’t have too much bullpen help and needed him to go far, and he did just that.”
However, once the contest entered its back third, the Panther offense reignited. After making two quick outs in the top of the seventh, two hits and two walks led to two runs, giving Crestwood a 3-2 edge, their first of the day.
Not to be outdone, the Minutemen responded in the next half inning to grab it right back. Ryan Missal (Western Michigan/Lowell, Ind.) placed a perfect bunt down the third-base line and promptly stole second base. Doran drove him in on an opposite-field double, bringing the two teams even once again, this time at three.
“They [Panthers] started shifting me and I took advantage,” Doran said of his second extra-base hit. “Everybody in this league thinks I can’t hit the ball the other way. Once I got an outside fastball, I just slapped it to left field and there was nobody there.”
Doran grabbed a stolen base of his own two batters later, setting the stage for Brendan Collins (Wisconsin-Parkside/Lemont, Ill.). His hard-hit infield single plated Doran and put the Minutemen ahead 4-3.
Despite the quick shift in momentum, the Panthers found more two-out magic in their next two turns at-bat. Another pair of hits in the eighth inning tied the score before a home run gave them the lead for good.
"Everything in the postgame huddle was positive," Murphy said. "These guys played their tails off today, and I let them know how proud I was of them for competing through it all."
The Minutemen head back to Indiana on Saturday as they face the Northwest Indiana Oilmen at Oil City Stadium in Whiting at 6:10 p.m. Murphy expects a strong comeback from his team tomorrow and to contend for their fourth win in 2020.
“We’re going to come out with a lot of energy,” Murphy said. “They’re going to give their best nine innings. Everyone knows what’s expected of them, now they have to go and do their jobs.”
Be sure to catch every moment Saturday on the Northwest Indiana Oilmen Broadcast Network as Brandon Vickrey will have the call.
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