Shorthanded Minutemen Push Panthers to the Brink in Extra-Inning Thriller

By: Ryan Zimmerman

Merrillville, Ind. – Down to just 10 players, four of them pitchers, and no bench, the MCL Minutemen (11-21) were fought against all odds versus a Crestwood Panthers (17-12) with everything to play for. Despite the depleted roster and a hungry opponent, the Minutemen performed admirably until the bitter end, dropping an 8-7 extra-inning heartbreaker.

“I’m really proud of these guys,” manager Jack Murphy said. “They were hyped to still be playing baseball this late into the summer. To play stay focused for all nine innings and execute in a non-traditional game motivated them to play their best even though they had to adapt their roles on the fly is impressive. I had a lot of fun watching everyone have fun.”

Of the 10 Minutemen, four played out of position defensively but still managed to add meaningful contributions. Ryan McCoy (Wabash Valley College/Frankfort, Ill.) reached base four times and recorded his 19th run batted in while playing error-free defense in right field. Patrick Rafferty (Dubuque/Orland Park, Ill.) notched a base hit and added three assists at second base. Cade Turner (Illinois-Springfield/Frankfort, Ill.) and Nic Vitiritti (Carthage College/Lansing, Ill.) each made their hitting debuts and got on base, both manning at least two positions in the field.

Though the lineup proved unconventional, it got results right away. The Minutemen struck for three runs in the very first inning, aided by consecutive doubles from McCoy and Ryan Nelson (Eastern Kentucky/Aurora, Ill.). Tyler Struck (Murray State College/Orland Park, Ill.) capped off the early rally with an RBI hit, forcing the Panthers to play from behind early on.

Unfortunately, the hosts did not need too much time to respond. Two-run outputs in the first and third innings helped them take a 4-3 through the contest’s first third.

Just like in their first turn at-bat, the Minutemen rode another trio of runs to reclaim their advantage. In a two-out, bases-loaded situation, Ryan Missal (Western Michigan/Lowell, Ind.) brought both teams level on a walk. McCoy then slapped a ground ball off the Crestwood second baseman, plating another pair and putting MCL ahead 6-4.

Again, however, that edge lasted only two frames. Two Panther tallies in the fourth and sixth evened the score, setting both teams back at square one.

Even as he surrendered those six runs, starting pitcher Norman Standish (South Suburban College/Highland, Ind.) turned in another fine outing. Only four were earned, scattering six hits and striking out seven in six innings. The newest addition to the starting rotation, Murphy lamented not changing Standish’s role sooner.

“Norm went out and competed today,” he said. “He did really well, it was more of the same from him. He understood the circumstances of today’s game and gave us the length we needed. I couldn’t have asked for much more.”

Making the move to familiar territory from third base to the pitcher’s mound, Turner took over in relief and provided two no-hit innings. He held a productive Crestwood offense in check, punching out a pair as well. Turner also later moved to left field, showing off his strong arm from much further than 60 feet away from home plate.

“Cade’s been strong for us all season,” Murphy said. “Today was no different. He attacked using his fastball primarily, and he throws so hard that hitters can’t react fast enough. He’s come a long way since his opening day appearance, I couldn’t be more pleased about his progress.”

Needing three outs to send the game to extra innings, Mike Koszewski (Cincinnati/Oak Brook, Ill.) toed the rubber for the first time since facing these same Panthers on July 8th. Not lacking a flair for the dramatic, the Minutemen relied on stellar defense to prevent the winning run from coming home. With no outs and the deciding runner on second base, a sharp single to center field looked to surely send the Panthers home victorious. However, Missal had other plans, delivering a perfect throw to the plate to keep his team alive. The very next batter, Koszewski fielded a comebacker and alertly trapped the runner on second base in a rundown, tagging him out himself. One strikeout later, the Minutemen headed into their first-ever extra-inning game.

Entering uncharted territory, Nelson headed to second base per MCL rules and immediately manufactured the go-ahead run. He stole third and drew a wild throw from the Crestwood catcher, placing the Minutemen ahead 7-6.

That, sadly, was where the Minutemen magic ran out. Aided by a runner on second themselves, the Panthers quickly loaded the bases and strung two straight singles together to seal their 17th victory.

Regardless of the result, Murphy had a positive message for his players during their post-game huddle.

“This was a good, hard-fought game,” Murphy said. “Nobody expected us to come out with a win, but we were right there the whole time; we even had the lead for a good bit. The Panthers got to us in the end, but we stayed competitive, kept the pressure on, and made them sweat it out.”

The Minutemen have the day off Wednesday but return to the diamond on Thursday as they head to Dowling Park in Hammond, Ind. to take on the Southland Vikings. Make sure to keep up on the Southland Vikings Broadcast Network via Facebook Live as Jack Theil and Ryan Zimmerman have the call.  

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