06/08/2017 3:03 PM -
The Northwest Indiana Oilmen played the Southland Vikings for the third time in the 2017 season Thursday, and for the third time lost. In the home opener for NWI, Southland crashed the party with a 7-4 win to drop the Oilmen to 5-6 on the season.
The Vikings made an intimidating first impression on Oilmen starter Nate Thomas, who played in his second game with Northwest Indiana. After the first two batters got on base, Tom Decero hit a three-run home run which gave Southland a 3-0 lead before Thomas had even recorded an out. The Oilmen had to play from behind early.
Luckily, the offense had its pitcher’s back. The Oilmen tied the game at three after scoring three runs in the bottom of the third. Chris Baker continued to bounce back from a slow start to the season with an RBI single which put Northwest Indiana on the board, and Carter Naughton got the Oilmen within one with a sacrifice fly on the next at-bat. A batter later, Blake Cleveland drove in Baker with a two-out double to make a new ballgame after three innings.
After the first inning home run, Thomas settled into a groove. He sent down 13 straight Vikings after Decero’s first-inning homer, and almost got out of a jam in the fifth. Instead, a two-out, two-RBI double by Trey Polewski got Southland its lead back.
“He definitely struggled to execute pitches in the first inning and then in the [fifth] inning,” Manager Adam Enright said. “I think the last inning he was a little tired for whatever reason. He didn’t throw that many pitches but he seemed to be a bit gassed, which was surprising to me, but I’m still learning these guys, too. Now I have a good idea of what it looks like when he starts to lose it, and I’ll make decisions accordingly. That first inning, he made one bad pitch with two strikes that I’m sure he’d like to have back, but he gave up two hits in that inning and gave up three runs. Things like that are going to happen.”
After falling behind again, the Oilmen didn’t have another answer on offense. Northwest Indiana left runners in scoring position in five of its nine at-bats. Leaving runners on base lost the Oilmen Thursday’s game, and has been a big part of all its losses this season.
“You just have to have better at-bats in those spots where you have runners on base, but those at-bats are under a microscope,” Enright explained after the game. “When you look at all the at-bats, even with runners not on base, across the board they weren’t quality. A lot of not really well-hit ground balls early in counts and a lot of soft contact in no-strike, one-strike counts. If you’re just looking to put a ball in play early in the count, you’re going to find yourself making a lot of early outs that don’t have the opportunity to do any damage. Unfortunately, we had a lot of those with runners in scoring position, but there were plenty of less-than quality at-bats throughout the day.”
The Oilmen scored a run in the eighth, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the offensive efficiency of the Vikings. Southland got just seven hits on the night, but scored seven runs.
“They’re very good,” Enright said. “They’re just as good as anyone else in the league… They’re as real as real can get in this league, which is good. We need that; our guys need to play that caliber of baseball throughout the summer.”
The Oilmen are back in Oil City Stadium tomorrow to face the Joliet Admirals. NWI is 2-0 against Joliet this season, but faces the Admirals for the first time at home on Friday.
To see the box score from today's game, click on "Download Attachment".