08/03/2013 1:25 PM -
Whiting, Ind. – August 1, 2013 – Just two wins separate the Northwest Indiana Oilmen from achieving their second Midwest Collegiate League title in as many years. On Friday night at 7:10, the Oilmen will look to reduce that number in half and stay unbeaten in the postseason as they take the field under the lights of beautiful Oil City Stadium in downtown Whiting.
The Oilmen will host their rivals from just over the state line as they take on the Southland Vikings, who play their home games in Flossmoor, Ill., which is just 20 miles from Whiting. As the two teams matchup in a postseason series for the first time ever, storylines are plentiful.
According to Oilmen head coach Justin Huisman, the proximity of the two teams leads to a rivalry of the friendly variety.
“I would say it’s a good rivalry,” Huisman said after the Oilmen lost to Southland on July 16. “There’s no bad blood or anything like that. We enjoy playing each other.”
The series marks a homecoming of sorts for Whiting’s Micah Rooke, Highland’s John Livingston and Hobart’s Tyler Hanson. Both Livingston and Hanson played for the league-champion Oilmen in 2012.
“They’re great guys,” Huisman said prior to a game against Southland on June 6. “We had a really good summer last summer and those two guys were a big reason why.”
Another member of the 2012 championship team, Hanover Central product Andy Wellwerts, will take the mound for the Oilmen for the series opener on Saturday night. Wellwerts is no stranger to pitching in the MCL Championship Series after picking up the victory in the clinching game of the 2012 finals against DeKalb. The Chicago State University right hander finished the regular season with a 4-2 record and a 4.42 ERA in seven games, six of which were starts.
The Vikings finished the regular season in fourth place, earning the final postseason qualifying spot. However, Southland appears to be heating up at the right time after throttling top-ranked DuPage 12-2 on Wednesday night to sweep the MCL semifinals.
“I expect them to hit the ball like they have the last few weeks,” Huisman said. “They’ve been one of the hottest hitting teams in the league. Pitching-wise, hopefully they used a lot of pitching [in the semifinals] and they’re going to obviously throw everything at us.”
Southland is back in the league finals for the first time since 2010, when the league was known as the Great Plains League. The Vikings have never won the league title, dropping the 2010 finals to the Rockford Foresters.
The Oilmen and Vikings were first and second in the league respectively in on-base percentage, while Southland led the MCL in on-base plus slugging at .725 and in bases on balls with 145.
“They’ll bring a lot of speed,” Oilmen outfielder Jack Czeszewski said. “They have a lot of speed; they have a lot of power. Their lineup is awesome. They’ve got some good pitching; their top line guys are pretty good and they’ve got a good closer [Alex Lesiak], so I’m pretty excited.”
Since the Oilmen joined the MCL in 2012, nearly every meeting between NWI and Southland has provided late-inning drama. The Oilmen dropped the rubber match of the seven-game season series on July 16 when normally effective closer Matt Pobereyko suffered a rare blown save. The Vikings rallied for three in the ninth to win it 6-4.
Five of the seven meetings this season were decided by one or two runs. On June 6, the Oilmen escaped with a 7-6 victory as the Vikings left the bases loaded in the ninth. NWI rallied for three runs in the ninth on June 18 to stun the Vikings 5-4 on a two-out walk-off single by Nick Bartolone. Andrean graduate Kenny Mahala scored the game-winning run on a safety squeeze by Anthony Bova in the bottom of the ninth of a 2-1 win on July 11.
The Oilmen swept their MCL Semifinal series, besting Lexington 12-3 and 17-9. In the two games, Tyler Baar went 6-for-9 with four doubles and six runs batted in. Czeszewski was 7-for-11 with five of those hits coming in the series-clincher on Wednesday night.
The opening game of the series is pivotal as all nine teams in MCL history that have won game one of a best-of-three playoff series have gone on to win in the series. If the Oilmen take the series, it will be the third straight year that the team that finished second in the regular season standings has gone on to hoist the trophy. If the Vikings capture the league crown, they will be the first team to do so after finishing fourth in the regular season.
MCL Championship Series Schedule & Northwest Indiana Starting Pitchers
Tickets for game one of the MCL Finals are available on nwioilmen.com. All three games can be heard on nwioilmen.com and AM 1230 WJOB as the Oilmen and Vikings battle it out with the Midwest Collegiate League title on the line.
FOR THE GAME NOTES FOR GAME 1, CLICK THE 'DOWNLOAD ATTACHMENT' LINK BELOW