05/29/2018 12:38 AM -
Midlothian, Ill. – May 28, 2018 – After setting the franchise record for walks in a single season each of the last two years, Oilmen outfielder Chris Baker (Trinity Christian / South Holland, Ill.) got off to a strong start in his quest to make it three consecutive seasons in Monday’s 15-4 opening night win over the Crestwood Panthers.
The Oilmen leadoff man worked walks in each of his first four plate appearances, setting the tone for an Oilmen offense that drew an eye-popping 22 walks at Howie Minas Field. Baker’s keen eye was contagious, as NWI batters made Crestwood pitchers throw 249 total pitches on the evening.
Baker wasn’t even the team leader in walks on Monday, as Cory Krolikowski (Minnesota Duluth / Bartlett, Ill.) received bases on balls in five straight plate appearances after driving in a run with a ground ball in the first inning.
“A lot of the guys in the lineup today are guys who played a significant amount at their schools and have a lot of at-bats under their belts this year,” Oilmen manager Adam Enright said. “It was nice to have that experience in the lineup, so they didn’t let the game speed up on them and weren’t over-aggressive at the plate. You’ll see that out of guys who redshirted or didn’t get a whole lot of playing time; they’ll try to do too much with bad pitches. Our guys were experienced enough to make sure they were swinging at good pitches.”
For a brief moment it appeared as if Oilmen starting pitcher Christian Howell (Trinity Christian / Aurora, Ill.) was going to be plagued by the same wildness that impacted the Crestwood staff when he started the bottom of the first by permitting a leadoff, four-pitch walk. But the veteran right-hander settled in quickly, and eventually turned in a six-inning, three-hit performance while striking out seven and walking three. Both runs he yielded were unearned.
“His slider was good all day,” Enright said. “Early on the shadows here are challenging, so we talked about fastball command the first time through the order. He did a really good job of inducing a lot of ground balls. There were not a lot of sharply hit balls off him today. He let his pitches miss barrels and catch soft contact.”
Howell gained the win to extend his Oilmen career wins record to 11, while Kyle Ostrowski was on the other end of the decision. In addition to walking 22, the Crestwood pitching staff hit five batters. All nine Oilmen players in the starting lineup had at least one walk.
After Howell’s day came to an end, Sawyer Allen (Hillsdale / Fair Oaks, Ind.) made his Oilmen debut. The southpaw worked two shutout innings and gave up two hits. Five of the six outs he recorded came via the strikeout. Pedro Rodriguez (Tusculum / Kissimmee, Fla.) pitched the ninth for the Oilmen. He allowed two runs (one earned) as he was hurt by a Cole Blatchford two-run homer.
The Oilmen scored in seven of the nine innings. A four-run third was one of five times they posted a crooked number. Jackson Dvorak (South Suburban / New Lenox, Ill.) had two hits and two RBIs to lead the Oilmen offense, while Baker doubled to right-center to account for NWI’s only extra-base knock.
The first game of the summer season is always unique as the team assembles for the first time with players fresh off their collegiate seasons.
“It’s fun because you get to reconnect with guys who were here before and see how their seasons went,” Enright said. “You can get their take on where they’re at individually in their programs and start to build relationships with the new guys. You’re trying to lay the groundwork of having a team that is not only playing baseball together, but getting to know each other and building relationships.”
To view the box score, click here.