06/01/2017 2:38 PM -
The Oilmen traveled to Bloomington to play the Bobcats for the second time this season, but this time the teams met at Illinois Wesleyan University’s Jack Horenberger Field instead of the usual O’Neil Park. The location changed, but the style of play did not. After falling 1-0 to Bloomington in the season opener May 27, NWI found itself down late again in another pitcher’s duel. This time, the Oilmen made a ninth-inning comeback and took a 6-2 win away from the Bobcats.
The Oilmen fell behind early for the second straight day, as starter Hunter Clark gave up a two-out, two-run broken-bat single to the Bobcats’ Ryan Bouwman. It was the Oilmen season debut and first career start for Clark, who worked exclusively in the bullpen for Northwest Indiana in 2016.
“I really didn’t worry because [Clark’s] last outing last summer was against the Hounds in the postseason, and he threw 4-plus innings which basically won us that game,” Oilmen Coach Adam Enright said. “I wasn’t so much worried about how many pitches, just about getting going in the beginning. That was the one inning where he wasn’t so great. Once he settled in and we talked about a few mechanical things to help him get pitches in the zone the way he wants them to be in the zone, he was really good.”
Clark wouldn’t give up another run his six innings of work, but the Oilmen offense wasn’t giving him any help early. Bobcats’ starter Jackson Bronke, who pitched six scoreless innings and struck out 12 against NWI the first time the two teams met, continued to dominate Oilmen hitters. Northwest Indiana had only three hits after five innings, and scored its first and only run on Bronke in the sixth to cut the lead in half. With both starters pitching well, the second straight game between these two teams fell on the shoulders of the bullpen.
“[Bronke] just changes it up,” Enright said. “He changes eye level. He’ll start guys out with off-speed and get ahead 0-1, and you’re wondering if he’s going to double up off-speed or go fastball. He’s got good enough stuff to beat you with fastball and get you to swing and miss at breaking balls, but he just competes and mixes his pitches really well.”
Jon Rink relieved Bronke and pitched two scoreless innings, while Rory Gard came in for the Oilmen and didn’t let any runs cross in his first two innings of work as well. The game stayed at 2-1 going into the ninth, and it looked like the Oilmen were on their way to losing their second one-run game to the Bobcats in the first week of the season.
“We talked about just trying to play for one run at a time early before the shadows that were between the mound and the plate went away,” Enright explained. “They were pretty bad in the first five or six innings, and you could tell. All of our hitters really struggled to see the ball early in the game when the sun was still out, but once the sun went away in those last three innings we got some pretty good swings off. We were just hoping we would be within striking distance once we could see the ball a little better.”
The Oilmen started the top of the ninth with a double from Amir Wright, and Alec Olund laid down a bunt single to put himself on and advance Wright to third. Next to the plate was Chris Baker, who was just 1-18 in the season going into the at-bat. Baker doubled to the opposite side to score Wright and tie the game.
“We were right in the part of the order that we want to be in,” Enright added. “I don’t think there’s anywhere else that we would want to be, with who’s doing well and who’s not, to have Amir, Alec and Chris come up.”
With the game tied, nobody out and two more runners waiting in scoring position, the Oilmen offense exploded. Hunter Thorn reached on an error by Bobcats’ shortstop Nick Mosele to load the bases, and two batters later Jack Ciombor hit a two-run single to give the Oilmen a 4-2 lead. Another single from Noah Davis and fielder’s choice from Rory Gard each scored a run, and a five-run ninth gave NWI a 6-2 lead after trailing all game.
Gard came back in and pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to get the win; he is 1-0 on the season. Jon Rink was saddled with the loss – he falls to 0-1.
The win brings the Oilmen to 3-2 in the 2017 season, while the Bobcats are 1-3 after the loss. Northwest Indiana is back on the road tomorrow to face the Joliet Admirals. The Oilmen won their first matchup with the Admirals, 7-1 on Monday.
To see the box score from today's game, click on "Download Attachment".