By: Ryan Zimmerman
Midlothian, Ill. – For the third time in five days, the MCL Minutemen (5-11) did battle with the Northwest Indiana Oilmen (11-4), doing so at Howie Minas Field once again. As was the result on Monday, the visitors picked up a win with an inflated scoreline, handing the Minutemen a 12-1 defeat.
However, like their previous matchup, the Oilmen did most of their scoring in the ninth inning. The outcome does not reflect how well the Minutemen really played.
“These guys played some of their best baseball defensively all year,” manager Jack Murphy said. “Things just came undone in the end, but outside of that ninth inning, we held our own out there today.”
Making his third start of the 2020 campaign, Nic Vitiritti (Carthage College/Lansing, Ill.) put together his finest outing so far. Going up against the MCL’s most potent offense, he shut down the Oilmen lineup for seven strong innings. He did not give up a single earned run on three hits, striking out six batters while walking only one. The two runs he allowed were both unearned, as they followed a two-out error in the sixth inning.
What stood out most, though, was Vitiritti’s pitch economy. Of the 27 hitters he faced, 13 were retired within three pitches. He also recorded four innings of 13 pitches or fewer. His ability to throw strikes and induce weak contact early in counts enabled him to last until the later innings.
“Nic came out and was absolutely outstanding,” Murphy said. “He really showed no fear, threw strikes, and forced hitters to react to him. He did everything asked of him today and so much more.”
Unfortunately, Vitiritti’s teammates could not provide the run support necessary to prevent his first loss. The lone Minutemen run came in the bottom of the sixth inning when Ryan McCoy (Wabash Valley College/Frankfort, Ill.) singled home Ryan Howe (Purdue/Mount Prospect, Ill.), who reached on an impressive 10-pitch walk.
The Minutemen did have chances to level the score and even secure a lead down the stretch. They loaded the bases in the seventh inning and had runners on first and second base in the eighth, both times with one out. Unfortunately, the big hit never came, as Oilmen pitching found ways to escape danger. In total, MCL left 11 runners on base.
“We tried to do way too much as soon as we got guys in scoring position,” Murphy explained. “We didn’t stick to the game plan. Instead of aiming for solid contact and line drives, we tried swinging for the fences. That just isn’t smart, especially against the hard throwers we faced today.
“With nobody on base, we did really well. We got the leadoff man on five times. Once runners got into scoring position, we put pressure on ourselves rather than the pitcher. We played to his plan.”
Through the first eight innings, the Minutemen kept the Oilmen at arm’s length. But, as soon as the final inning began, the visitors pulled away in record time. Five walks, one hit batsman, and four hits, including three extra-base hits and a grand slam, led to a 10-run frame. MCL used three pitchers that inning, including catcher Tyler Struck (Murray State College/Orland Park, Ill.), who became the first position player in team history to take the mound.
The Minutemen hope to put this contest in the rearview mirror as they host the DuPage County Hounds at noon on Thursday at Howie Minas Field. Once again, Murphy hopes to follow up a double-digit loss with another bounce-back victory.
“Our first six innings offensively were really good today,” Murphy said. “Tomorrow that number needs to turn into nine. If we can stay locked in at the plate the whole way through, we’ll be alright.”
You can catch Thursday’s game on the MCL Minutemen Broadcast Network via Facebook Live. Ryan Zimmerman and Thomas Gorski will have the call.
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