08/09/2017 6:48 PM -
The Northwest Indiana Oilmen hoped to extend their title defense Friday in a decisive Game 3 of their MCL Semifinal series with the Bloomington Bobcats. In an extra-innings thriller, Northwest Indiana just fell short and lost to the Bobcats 7-6, ending its 2017 season.
The Oilmen scored first in the win-or-go-home Game 3. On the second pitch of the bottom of the first inning, Chase Dawson hit a leadoff home run off the Bobcats' Conor Steinbaugh to put NWI up 1-0. That lead would be short-lived, though. In the top of the second, the Bobcats tied the game after the Oilmen gave up a run in favor of a double play. Later, a Chase Dawson error at second base allowed Nick Figus to score and give Bloomington a 2-1 lead.
In the third, the Bobcats made a big statement to extend their lead. Oilmen starter Blake Marks allowed Bloomington to put runners on first and second with only one away. Marks got the second out without runners advancing when Payton Dillingham popped out in foul territory, but Zach Frey hit a three-run home run with two away which put the Bobcats up, 5-1.`
The Oilmen didn’t waste time in making up for their now four-run deficit. Northwest Indiana scored one in the fourth inning, and Alex Nisle started the scoring in the fifth after coming in on an error by Bobcats’ catcher Mitch Fairfield. Then, all with two outs, NWI scored three more runs and took the lead back. Chris Baker singled with runners on second and third to score Dawson, and Baker advanced to second after Andy Shadid bobbled the ball in center field. Hunter Thorn singled in the next at-bat to score Danny Torres and Baker and give the Oilmen a 6-5 advantage.
Just as it had earlier in the game, Bloomington made sure Northwest Indiana didn’t get comfortable with its lead. Jack Butler doubled in the top of the sixth with runners on first and second and scored Nate Beal to tie the game. Andy Shadid was also sent home, but in a huge defensive play Tyler Sroczynski threw him out at the plate for the second out of the inning. Ryan Scott popped out in the next at-bat, and the Oilmen kept the game tied at six.
The two teams combined for just one more hit until extra innings. The Oilmen had a chance to win it in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and one out. Hunter Thorn hit a line drive right at first baseman Jack Butler, who tagged first to double up Chris Baker. In the top of the 10th, the Bobcats put runners on first and second with one out before Bo Hofstra struck out two Bloomington hitters in a row to end the inning.
The Bobcats finally scored in the top of the 11th. Oilmen reliever Matt Garbacz loaded the bases with Bobcats with just one out. Rory Gard came in to try and get out of the jam, but Payton Dillingham hit a sacrifice fly to right which scored Butler. The Oilmen couldn’t respond in the bottom half, and Northwest Indiana’s season ended in one of the hardest-fought games of the year: a 7-6 loss in 11 innings.
“It’s just difficult because the guys we had were really enjoyable to be around,” Manager Adam Enright said after the game. “Even in the middle of the season, they just wanted to win… It was never a summer ball mentality. It felt like we were in the middle of a college spring season with how they approached being here. That’s the thing that is the most disappointing, because these guys really wanted to win and it just didn’t happen that way.”
Enright finishes his third season as the manager of the Oilmen and sixth with the team. He led Northwest Indiana to the best regular season record in team history (34-16) and broke the all-time wins record for an Oilmen manager.
“With this group, sometimes development was not even a thought,” Enright said. “It was just get out there and try to win, play situational baseball and try to finish on top. That’s the main ingredient that got us to be successful in the regular season… I’ve had way more lasting relationships with guys on this team than I have in the past. I’m sure that I will be in touch with and hear from guys more often from this team than teams in the past. This was the first year where I was really into getting to know the guys instead of just trying to win games and win championships.”
The Bobcats advance to the MCL Championship Series, where they’ll face the Southland Vikings.