By: Brandon Vickrey
Whiting, Ind. – Aug. 13, 2020 – For just the second time in franchise history, the Northwest Indiana Oilmen are Midwest Collegiate League regular season champions.
Fittingly enough, the Oilmen received stellar pitching on Thursday after thriving in the area of the game played a key role in the team’s success over the course of the regular season. They scored early and often as well, dispatching DuPage County 12-1 in a preview of this weekend’s MCL Championship Series matchup. This marks the team’s first regular-season title since 2017 and second overall.
“It was important to secure last at-bats and win the regular season,” Oilmen manager Chris Cunningham said. “However, the Hounds were undermanned tonight and we know that’s not the team that we’re going to face this weekend. We did what we had to do, and that’s the only thing we can control.”
Starting pitcher Jack Guzek (Iowa / Manhattan, Ill.) struck out six over six innings of one-run, five-hit baseball to up his season total to 54 strikeouts against just seven walks. Guzek (4-1) finished one strikeout shy of tying Enrique Zamora’s single-season record of 55 established in 2015, became just the fifth pitcher in Oilmen history with 50 strikeouts in a season and finished second on the franchise’s single-season strikeout list.
A talented Big Ten righty with one of the league’s best fastballs was followed by a talented Big Ten lefty with the league’s best breaking ball. Isaiah Coupet (Ohio State / Flossmoor, Ill.) earned his second save of the season by pitching the final three innings while yielding just one hit and one walk, notching strikeouts for eight of the nine outs he recorded. Coupet struck out 32 in just 18 1/3 innings of work this summer.
“Really strong pitching and quality defense were keys for us all summer, and that was the case again tonight,” Cunningham said. “You have to tip your cap to Jack and Isaiah. Jack did his thing and pitched six strong innings, and probably could have gone longer if needed. Isaiah and Jack gave us everything they had, and they were two of the best pitchers in the league. Hopefully their experience this summer helps them win a job at their respective schools; that’s what this is all about.”
The Oilmen offense jumped in front with five first-inning runs before tacking on four in the second to make it a route. Costa Sirounis (Indiana / Munster, Ind.) had a two-run single in the opening inning before Tyler Nelson (Indiana / Crown Point, Ind.) clubbed a two-run double to highlight the second frame. Nelson went on to double and score in the sixth and rip a triple to lead off the eighth.
Nick Anderson (Arkansas Fort Smith / Highland, Ind.) and Tre’ Hondras (Michigan / South Holland, Ill.) had two hits apiece on a night where the top three hitters in the Oilmen order combined for seven hits and seven runs scored.
The Oilmen won the regular-season series against the Hounds (21-12) by virtue of Thursday’s victory, winning four of the seven meetings. This marks the first team the Oilmen have won the regular-season head-to-head since 2017. The victory also allowed the Oilmen to secure last at-bats in Games 1 and 3 of this weekend’s MCL Finals, which will begin on Saturday night at Oil City Stadium. The Oilmen and Hounds will match up in the championship series for the third time in the last five seasons.
“We expect to face a couple of good lefties, and that’s been our Achilles heel all year,” Cunningham said. “If we come out and play good baseball with pitching and defense, that will be a key.”
Before turning the page to the postseason, the Oilmen (23-11) will host the MCL Minutemen at 7:10 p.m. in the regular-season finale on Friday. It’s a $2 Miller Lite Pint Night with discounted pints available at the stadium concession stand. For those who cannot attend, Brandon Vickrey and Ryan Zimmerman will have the call on the Oilmen Broadcasting Network, which is available via Facebook Live.
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