By: Ryan Zimmerman
Hammond, Ind. – Fresh off consecutive wins, the MCL Minutemen (8-14) took to the diamond at Dowling Park ready to continue their good run of play. Aided by a six-run comeback, they did just that, taking down the Southland Vikings (13-9) in a 12-11 shootout.
“I was on the edge of my seat the entire time,” manager Jack Murphy said afterward. “Both teams battled the whole way, neither team looked in control at any point. Both teams were taking good hacks, we just had more when we needed them.”
For the third straight contest, the Minutemen produced double-digit hits, finishing with 12 in successive days. However, on Tuesday, the entire lineup specialized in driving the baseball and finding gaps in the outfield; eight of those hits were for extra bases, including five triples and two home runs. Additionally, they put their plate patience on full display, drawing 10 walks.
“The guys have been incredibly locked in at the plate lately,” Murphy said. “It’s a continuation of the same approach we’ve had all season, now the wins are starting to come. It was a lot of fun watching them scorch balls all over the place today.”
The Minutemen came out of the gates right away and opened the scoring in the first inning. Christian Peña (Eastern Illinois/Davenport, Iowa) led off by driving a triple to center field and promptly scored through a Ryan Howe (Purdue/Mount Prospect, Ill.) sacrifice fly.
Unfortunately, their lead was short-lived. The Vikings struck for five runs in the bottom of the second and put the Minutemen behind early.
It did not take long, though, for the Minutemen to respond as they put up a two-spot in the third. Howe registered another sacrifice fly, this time bringing home Brennan Brogni (Illinois-Springfield/Flagstaff, Ariz.) who himself tripled. Brad Miller (Illinois-Springfield/Oak Forest, Ill.) later drew a bases-loaded walk to cut the Vikings lead to two.
For the next few innings, however, the Vikings offense settled into a groove. One run in the bottom of the third followed by three in the fifth saw the Minutemen staring at a 9-3 deficit, putting them in a precarious spot on the verge of a potential blowout.
At a crucial point, the batting order stepped up to get the Minutemen back into the competition. Brogni kicked off a sixth-inning rally by tripling for the second time before Mike Bolton (Purdue/Calumet City, Ill.) plated him on a sharp single to right field. Tyler Struck (Murray State College/Orland Park, Ill.) walked and later scored on a wild pitch. Peña worked a free pass as well and reached home shortly after on Howe’s third sacrifice fly. Ryan McCoy (Wabash Valley College/Frankfort, Ill.) then launched the team’s fourth three-bagger, this time to right-center field, sending Bolton around the bases to cap off a four-run rally.
The Vikings tacked on one more in the bottom half of the frame to push their advantage back up to 10-7, but the Minutemen were equal to task. With two outs and runners on the corners in the seventh, Bolton delivered the biggest swing of the game, delivering a three-run inside-the-park home run to left field, tying things up at 10 apiece.
“I’ve tried to maintain the same simple approach and drive the ball all season,” Bolton said. “Off the bat, I thought I had a stand-up triple. But when I got to the bag, [Jack] Murphy told me I got it and I just kept running. Getting my first home run, especially the way I did since inside-the-park home runs are really rare, I thought it was pretty cool.”
Despite clearing the bases, the Minutemen still were not done. Howe took a five-pitch walk and immediately put his team in front after McCoy notched his second triple, giving them an 11-10 advantage.
Ryan Missal (Western Michigan/Lowell, Ind.) added one more for good measure by leading off the eighth by blasting a solo homer to right field, this time clearing the fence to do so. That marked his second long ball in as many games against the Vikings.
That was all reliever Norman Standish (South Suburban College/Highland, Ind.) needed to close the door. Having entered in relief with one out in the bottom of the fifth, he shut down Southland hitters and got the final 14 outs. Over his 4 2/3 inning on the mound, he allowed only two runs (one earned) on three hits, striking out five batters to just one walk. Though his unearned run scored in the ninth inning, he stranded the tying run at third base to secure his first win.
“I felt pretty good on the mound today,” Standish said. “The plan was to throw a lot of breaking balls and get swings and misses, and fortunately that worked out. I’m glad I was able to help my team grab the win.”
The Minutemen don’t have to wait long for their next game as they travel to the Lansing Old Timer’s Sports Complex on Wednesday to face the Northwest Indiana Oilmen at 2 p.m. As they look to secure their fourth victory in a row, Murphy emphasized how he expects the good momentum to carry over.
“These guys are playing an exciting style of baseball,” Murphy said. “I enjoy watching them go out there every day and play their hardest. They’ve competed this whole season, now it’s paying off, and I’m super happy for them. They look like they can beat anybody right now.”
You can catch Wednesday’s matchup on the Northwest Indiana Oilmen Broadcast Network via Facebook Live. Brandon Vickrey, Andrew Fish, and Ryan Zimmerman will have the call.
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