08/19/2013 12:43 PM -
Although the Northwest Indiana Oilmen came up just shy in their attempt to repeat as Midwest Collegiate League champions, the 2013 NWI campaign had its fair share of highlights, including walk-off wins, league records and a memorable series sweep of the Lexington Snipes to reach the Midwest Collegiate League Finals for the second straight year.
The Oilmen finished the regular season with a 27-15 overall record, 21-13 against Midwest Collegiate League opponents. Their pitching staff put together a team earned run average of 3.34 to rank second in the league.
The starting rotation was anchored by left-hander Jimmy McNamara, a Lake Central High School graduate that posted a 4-0 record and a 1.18 ERA during the regular season. The Central Michigan hurler’s first loss of the year did not come until game two of the MCL Finals against Southland.
“I think I had a really great summer,” McNamara said. “Hopefully I just carry that into the fall. I really fine-tuned all of my pitches and got ahead of guys and got the first guy out. I really improved my game a lot this summer.”
University of Akron righty Michael Steensen also sparkled in the starting rotation throughout the summer. He finished with a 4-1 mark, a franchise-record 43 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.85.
Bishop Noll graduate Matt Pobereyko and Gavit grad Aveeno Nasiloski formed a formidable backend of the bullpen combo. Nasiloski led the team in ERA at 0.84, yielding just two earned runs all season as the squad’s setup man. Pobereyko latched down five saves, besting the previous MCL single-season record of four that was set in 2011.
“This year’s team’s strength was pitching,” manager Justin Huisman said. “All summer long, our starters did an outstanding job, especially our late innings guys Aveeno and Pobereyko. I’m really proud of all those guys. I think they learned a lot from each other.”
The 2013 Oilmen season opened with a 2-1 loss in a non-league game in Michigan City on May 29 and concluded with a 4-1 loss to the Southland Vikings on Aug. 4. Sandwiched between those defeats, there were plenty of exciting moments.
Although the Oilmen were swept by Southland in the MCL Championship Series, two of the most exciting victories of the year came against the rival Vikings. The Oilmen trailed 4-2 going to the bottom of the ninth on June 18 at Oil City Stadium, only to roar from behind with three runs to stun Southland. Nick Bartolone capped the rally with a single that plated Joe Houlihan for the winning run.
On July 11, a pitchers’ duel between Jimmy McNamara and Aaron Hauge turned into a game of the bullpens when both starters left with the score locked at one. Anthony Bova dropped down a safety squeeze bunt in the ninth to drive in Kenny Mahala and give NWI a 2-1 victory.
Northwest Indiana had also won a game in its final at-bat just four days prior, a 1-0 win over Michigan City at Oil City Stadium. Rashawn Tillman lifted a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth to plate Ty Hogan and prevent extra-innings.
One of the most memorable Oilmen games of the season involved extra-innings on June 30, though it may be a contest that the Oilmen would rather forget. NWI played the longest game in franchise history by both time (five hours, five minutes) and innings (15) only to fall to DuPage County 13-12. The two teams combined for 43 hits and six errors in the marathon affair. The Hounds scored a run in the top of the 13th to take a 12-11 lead, but Nick Bartolone led off the bottom of the third with a solo homer to extend the game further. Bartolone finished the day with single-game franchise records for both hits with five and RBIs with seven. His seven runs batted in tied a league record previously held by Chris Hipchen of Illinois, who drove in seven against the Hounds on July 3, 2012.
Although Bartolone matched Hipchen’s single-game RBI record, he shattered the former Illinois Lincolns slugger’s single-season record by finishing with 37 runs driven in. Bartolone’s teammate Jack Czeszewski, who led the team in on-base percentage at .470, set a league record of his own by drawing 30 bases on balls. Leiff Clarkson finished the season with 34 runs scored and 50 hits, both franchise records.
Perhaps the highlight of the season came on July 31, when the Oilmen pounded out a franchise-record 23 hits to blast the Lexington Snipes 17-9 and clinch a spot in the Midwest Collegiate League Championship for the second straight year. Czeszewski matched Bartolone’s previous team-high with five hits to help the Oilmen complete the sweep of the Snipes.
Two local players in Andrean’s Kenny Mahala and Lowell’s Craig Austgen heated up late in the season and made significant contributions. Ty Hogan was also productive at the plate, clubbing .296 in the regular season, while Anthony Bova batted .317.
The Oilmen sent 10 players to the All-Star Game, which was hosted at Oil City Stadium in July. The Oilmen also welcomed an All-Star Team of a different variety, when they defeated the U.S. Military All-Star 9-6 on a special display of baseball and patriotism in front of a sellout crowd.
After sweeping the Snipes in the semifinal series, the Oilmen dropped two straight to Southland in the MCL Finals. The Oilmen were looking for their second straight league title after winning the championship in their inaugural season of 2012.
“Last year’s team just did a really good job of executing, especially in the championship,” Huisman said. “Whether it was a bunt, a hit-and-run or just getting a big hit, we executed. I think where we fell short in this championship is that we did get some guys on base, but we just couldn’t get any big hits.”
After taking the championship series, Midwest Collegiate League Commissioner Don Popravak said he considers the league’s fourth year a successful one.
“We’ve asked the teams to try to go out and improve their clubs from a talent perspective,” Popravak said. “I saw some excellent competition this year for the Oilmen as well as the Vikings. I saw some really good, hard-nosed baseball played by some very talented young men, who I think have a future.”
Three of the six teams in the league had former Major League Baseball players on their staffs this season: Lexington pitching coach Brian DuBois, Oilmen manager Justin Huisman and Southland pitching coach Marvin Freeman.
“I think we’ve made tremendous strides this year, not only from a talent level, but from a coaching level,” Popravak said.
2013 Oilmen Statistical Leaders
Batting Average- Nick Bartolone, .361
Home Runs- Mahala/Bartolone/Clarkson/Baar, 1
RBIs- Bartolone, 37
BB- Jack Czeszewski, 30
SB- Czeszewski, 22
Wins- Cochran/Wellwerts/Steensen/Nasiloski/McNamara, 4
ERA- Aveeno Nasiloski, 0.84
Ks- Michael Steensen, 43