By: Ryan Zimmerman
Whiting, Ind. – The MCL Minutemen (11-19) certainly produced the big swings necessary to topple the Northwest Indiana Oilmen (21-10) on a beautiful Saturday night at Oil City Stadium. But, the majority of their offense came when they left their bats on their shoulders. They rode their stellar plate discipline to victory, drawing 16 walks in an 11-6 win.
“It feels so great to get this W tonight,” manager Jack Murphy said with a smile. “We came out and played well all the way from the first pitch to the last. It was really fun to watch these guys compete the entire time.”
Despite the lopsided final score, the Oilmen jumped out to an early advantage, scoring in their first turn at-bat. A solid single to center field plated the game’s first run, but things could have been much worse for the Minutemen. The hosts loaded the bases, but starting pitcher Ryan Troxel (Indiana Tech/Valparaiso, Ind.) made a big pitch when he needed it most, striking out former Saint Xavier teammate Joe Rycerz to hold them to only one.
The Minutemen provided their starter some run support starting in the second inning. Following a Ryan McCoy (Wabash Valley College/Frankfort, Ill.) leadoff base hit and Brennan Brogni (Illinois-Springfield/Flagstaff, Ariz.) walk, Lukas Broske (Lake Land College/West Bend, Wis.) poked an opposite-field double down the right-field line to draw both teams level. Newcomer Ryan Nelson (Eastern Kentucky/Aurora, Ill.) produced a sacrifice fly to put the visitors up 2-1.
Almost immediately, though, their progress in the batter’s box was quickly erased. The Oilmen equalized in the bottom half of that frame and tacked on two more in the third to go back in front 4-2. Through the contest’s first, Northwest Indiana placed themselves in prime position to finish on top.
However, the Minutemen lineup sprung to life, pulling ahead and staying there starting in the fourth inning. Three consecutive two-out walks to Patrick Rafferty (Dubuque/Orland Park, Ill.), Mike Koszewski (Cincinnati/Oak Brook, Ill.) and Mike Bolton (Purdue/Calumet City, Ill.) setup Ryan Howe (Purdue/Mount Prospect, Ill.) to do damage. He crushed a 1-0 fastball over the brick monster in left field for the first grand slam in franchise history, flipping a two-run Oilmen deficit into a two-run Minutemen lead.
“I came into today looking to put good swings on the ball, and luckily, that worked out for me,” Howe said. “I geared up for the fastball, and I saw pretty much nothing else. I wanted to stay within myself, not do too much, and take what they [the Oilmen] give me, and I found success doing that.”
Pitching with a lead once again, Troxel found his mojo on the mound. He shut down Oilmen bats in the fourth and fifth innings, generating two scoreless frames to end his evening. In total, he allowed four runs on seven hits, punching out three and stranding seven runners on base to punctuate his first winning decision.
“Today was not my best start, but my teammates gave me run support and that fueled me,” Troxel said of his outing. “I didn’t have my best stuff, so I just tried to pitch to contact, pound the zone, and hope for the best. I trusted my defense, and they had my back. It’s nice that I finally get the job done; instead of a tough-luck loss, I get a good-luck win.”
“Words can’t express how happy I am for Trox[el],” Murphy continued. “His performance speaks to his attitude and mentality. Even when he knows he isn’t throwing his best, he’s still attacking everyone with everything he has. Nothing fazed him.”
Before Troxel departed, the Minutemen got one more tally to further bolster his hopes for a victory. Another three free passes led to a second Nelson sacrifice fly, giving them a three-run cushion halfway through the contest.
Trailing by a trio, the Oilmen applied pressure to the Minutemen defense in the sixth. Three hits preceded two runs and cut their deficit to one. Nevertheless, as both the tying and go-ahead runners stood on base, reliever Matt Blaney (Illinois Wesleyan/Tinley Park, Ill.) stood tall. He induced a strikeout and weak groundout to halt any more traction.
Up by one, the Minutemen brought the result beyond a shadow of a doubt in the seventh inning. Free passes to Ryan Missal (Western Michigan/Lowell, Ind.) and Broske gave Rafferty a chance to hit with a runner in scoring position. He took full advantage, stroking his first knock to the team’s eighth run, his first hit and run batted in. Koszewski walked once more to fill the bases for Howe, who came through again in a similar spot, again with two outs. He slapped a two-run single to left field, pushing their run total to double-digits. A passed ball moments later chased Koszewski in, extending their edge to 11-6.
From there on out, Blaney dominated the final three frames. He set down 10 of the final 12 hitters he faced, earning his first save while consigning the Oilmen to defeat in front of their home fans.
“Matt’s been very good for us all summer,” Murphy said. “This was his last outing before going back to school, so he wanted to leave it all on the hill. I asked him how he was doing after every inning, and he kept telling me to give him the ball. You can’t justify taking a pitcher out when he’s shoving out there; he was incredible.”
The Minutemen head to Howie Minas Field in Midlothian, Ill. on Sunday to play the Joliet Generals at 6 p.m. To turn Saturday's win into a streak, Murphy wants a repeat effort.
“All we need to do is come out and play like we did tonight,” he said. “If the pitchers attack the zone and the hitters keep their same approaches, we’ll pick up the same result.”
Be sure to tune in on the MCL Minutemen Broadcast Network via Facebook Live as Ryan Zimmerman and Alex Coil have the call.
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