08/02/2016 8:22 PM -
Joliet, Ill. – Aug. 2, 2016 – It was the same team and the same game, but a different feel surrounded Tuesday’s postseason opener for the Northwest Indiana Oilmen.
The Oilmen took the field just like did they 48 times during the regular season, but Game 1 of the MCL Semifinal Series – a 7-1 win over Joliet – felt different.
The Oilmen try to win games in the regular season, but summer ball creates a balance of priorities since players are sent by college to get work in – requiring managers to utilize the whole roster and divvy up playing time.
Now that the games really count, the mentality changes.
With the “A” lineup playing, manager Adam Enright using one-batter pitching assignments and strategizing for favorable matchups and the ace on the mound, the Oilmen looked like a team reaching its full potential. A team that’s one win away from its first trip to the MCL Championship Series since 2013.
“It’s night and day,” Enright said. “Guys can play roles out of the ‘pen. If it’s a close game and we have guys struggling at the plate, we have a couple of guys on our bench who have been swinging it well to hit in spots where you’re looking for big hits.”
Christian Howell (Minnesota State Mankato / Aurora, Ill.) was given the ball for the biggest game of the year and didn’t disappoint. He flipped 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball while allowing five hits and striking out six. He picked up the win, his first decision of the postseason.
“(Howell) was throwing strike one and getting ahead of hitters,” Enright said. “He’s funky; he’s got a lot of movement to all of his pitches. The fewer pitches they see, the better he seems to be. Getting ahead of hitters and putting them on the defensive makes him the aggressor.”
Yelnick did his job by inducing a ground ball and was lifted after three pitches in favor of Sam Geraci, who came on to get the final out of the seventh. Geraci also put a goose egg on the board in the eighth, then Braden Niksich did the same in the ninth.
The Oilmen (1-0) took advantage of Admiral mistakes early by scoring unearned runs in the first and fourth innings. Stefano Belmonte and Chris Baker came up with clutch hits to drive in those runs.
“Two-out RBIs are the back breakers,” Enright said. “It’s a sign of maturity and older guys stepping up and getting hits.”
The Oilmen tacked on two more in the seventh when Chase Fieldhouse (St. Joseph’s College / St. John, Ind.) banged a run-scoring double and Marshawn Taylor (Grambling State / Chicago, Ill.) ripped an RBI single.
On an otherwise perfect day for the Oilmen, a serious scare took place in the top of the ninth inning, when Zack Forney (Eastern Illinois / Cary, Ill.) fouled a ball that struck him in the face. Forney left the game and received emergency medical attention.
Jake Perreira (University of Indianapolis / Grant Park, Ill.) came in as a pinch batter and inherited an 0-2 count, but lashed a double that rolled into deep right center. Perreira eventually came around to score an insurance run on a sacrifice fly by Tyler Sroczynski (Trinity Christian / Dyer, Ind.)
All seven Oilmen hits came from different players. The Oilmen, who struggled defensively during the regular season, played errorless defense, while the Admirals (0-1) were charged with four miscues.
Joliet starter Seth Rosenberg took the defeat after allowing four runs (two earned) on six hits and three walks in 6 2/3 innings.
The Oilmen take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three MCL Semifinal Series, which shifts to Oil City Stadium for Game 2 on Wednesday at 7:20 p.m. Tickets are available now on NWIOilmen.com as the Oilmen will attempt to sweep the series and nail down a spot in the league finals.