By: Ryan Zimmerman
Merrillville, Ind. – For the first time in franchise history, the MCL Minutemen (7-14) strung together victorious performances in back-to-back games. Following a seven-inning mercy rule victory the day before, they took down the streaking Crestwood Panthers (9-10) by a 9-5 score.
“That was a huge win for us,” manager Jack Murphy said. “Getting our second in a row will provide a huge confidence boost. It’s been fun watching these guys play excellent baseball in consecutive days.”
Having plated 20 runs on 15 hits last Sunday against the Joliet Generals, the Minutemen offensive hot streak carried over against the Panthers. Their nine runs came on 12 hits, 10 walks, and two hit batsmen. Four players recorded two hits while three players reached base three times; Patrick Doran (North Carolina Central/Chicago, Ill.) led the way by getting on base five times in six plate appearances. “Both our approach and plate discipline impressed me,” Murphy said.
“We didn’t chase too many bad pitches, and we drove our pitches when we got them. There were a lot of quality at-bats, nobody took a single pitch off. These are the days I enjoy most; I can just go coach third base and not think too hard about what to do.”
The Panthers drew first blood in the first inning to open the scoring, but after that, it was essentially all Minutemen. Doran got the team on the board in the third inning by singling and scoring Mike Bolton (Purdue/Calumet City, Ill.) who doubled two batters earlier.
Just one inning later, the Minutemen found themselves in front by two. Brad Miller (Illinois-Springfield/Oak Forest, Ill.) stroked an 0-1 fastball that easily cleared the left-field wall for a two-run home run, his third on the season.
“That ball felt great off the bat,” Miller said. “I went into the [batter’s] box thinking I needed to take a full swing. I hit a check-swing groundout the at-bat before and I was mad at myself, so I wanted to get off a good swing. I knew it was gone when I made contact; it would have gone a lot further if not for the wind blowing in.”
The Minutemen tacked on one more that inning to give themselves a comfortable lead in the middle frames. Christian Peña (Eastern Illinois/Davenport, Iowa) legged out an infield single and advanced 90 feet on a throwing error. The next batter, Bolton, did the exact same thing, bringing home Peña.
Despite a scoreless fifth, Minutemen hitters got back into a groove soon after, notching two runs in both the sixth and seventh innings. Ryan McCoy (Wabash Valley College/Frankfort, Ill.) drove a pair home on a base hit to right field before wild pitches tallied another one frame later.
On the mound, Nic Vitiritti (Carthage College/Lansing, Ill.) produced one of his finest starts of the season to back up the lineup. His emphasis on pitching to contact worked to full effect as he threw 6 2/3 innings of four-hit ball, permitting three runs as well. He only struck out two batters, but it did not matter as he forced weakly hit balls on nearly half the Panthers he faced en route to his first win.
“I just wanted to pitch to contact,” Vitiritti said. “I didn’t want to worry so much about striking everyone out. I have a great defense behind me, I trust them, and I know that they’ll make the play when they need to. People get so locked up in the idea that you need to strike guys out if you want to be a good pitcher, but if you can just be efficient, use your pitches, throw strikes, and force weak contact ahead in counts, you can go deep into games.”
Once Vitiritti departed, the Panthers offense provided a fright. They rallied for four two-out runs in the bottom of the seventh and sending the tying run to the plate. However, just one swing away from evening the ballgame, Matt Blaney (Illinois Wesleyan/Tinley Park, Ill.) forced a weak pop up to keep the Minutemen ahead 8-5.
Though they still held a sizable advantage, the Minutemen registered one more score in the ninth inning for good measure. With runners on the corners and one out, Doran logged another RBI, this time a groundout to increase the distance between them and the Panthers to a sizable four runs. Cade Turner (Illinois-Springfield/Frankfort, Ill.) then needed just eight pitches to record the final three outs, closing the door on any comeback by way of a shutdown final frame.
In securing their second positive result in as many days, Murphy hopes the winning streak adds to his team’s already high energy level.
“Confidence and emotion were running high in the dugout,” Murphy said. “Everyone is having fun just coming out and competing their best all nine innings. It’s all I’ve asked for, and hopefully, tomorrow is no different.”
The Minutemen remain in the state of Indiana on Tuesday as they head northwest to Dowling Park in Hammond to face the Southland Vikings at 1 p.m. Be sure to tune in on the Southland Vikings Broadcast Network via Facebook Live as Jack Theil and Ryan Zimmerman have the call.
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