05/29/2018 11:30 AM
Northwest Indiana Oilmen (1-0)
at Bloomington Bobcats (0-0)
May 29, 2018 • 6 p.m. • Bloomington, Ill.
Broadcast: Oilmen Broadcasting Network (Facebook Live)
NWI’s Brandon Hickey (Robert Morris / Monee, Ill.) vs. Bloomington’s Nick Brune (Illinois Wesleyan / Mundelein, Ill.)
For the third consecutive season, the Bloomington Bobcats play host the Northwest Indiana Oilmen in a May game that is Opening Day for one team or the other. The Oilmen started the 2016 season at Bloomington with a 3-0 loss at the hands of Mitch Weis, who struck out nine over seven one-hit innings. That game was Opening Day for the Oilmen but not the Bobcats. When the two teams got to together early in 2017, it once again marked the first game of the season for the Oilmen, but not the Bobcats. History repeated itself as NWI suffered a low-scoring loss, this time 1-0 on a bottom of the 10th inning walk-off sac fly. This year, this game is Opening Day for the Bobcats but not for the Oilmen, who already have one win under their belts.
Inside the Oilmen
The Oilmen offense accepted 22 walks and had five hit batters in a 15-4 opening night win at Crestwood on Tuesday, led by Cory Krolikowski with five bases on balls. The lone Oilmen extra-base hit came courtesy of Chris Baker, while pitcher Christian Howell notched the 11th win of his MCL career. Oilmen infielder Nick Figus will face his former team on Tuesday as he was a member of the Bloomington Bobcats last season, hitting .288 with 16 RBIs and 30 runs scored while swiping 12 bags and being caught just once. Figus is very familiar with Bobcats owner/operator Mike Brown, who was on Illinois Wesleyan’s staff under head coach Dennis Martel this past season. Figus earned All-Regional NCAA Division III second-team honors for his performance this spring, leading the Titans in batting average (.411), hits (69), runs (38) and on-base percentage (.471). Starting pitcher Brandon Hickey, who finished with a 7-2 record and 2.50 ERA in 11 starts with 63 strikeouts over 57 2/3 innings at Robert Morris, earned a place on the CCAC all-conference team.
Inside the Bobcats
The Bobcats were the MCL runners-up last season after upsetting the Oilmen in the opening round of the MCL Playoffs. They fell in a three-game MCL Championship series with Southland. Bloomington made a nice jump by finishing 2017 at 28-23 after going 19-22 in 2016, the team’s first year in the MCL. Seven players are back from last year’s team. Bloomington posted a league-best 3.45 team ERA a year ago. Nick Brune pitched 45 2/3 innings and issued only nine walks while striking out 45 with a 2.29 ERA in 2017, and he gets the start on Tuesday. The Bobcats play a portion of their games at Illinois Wesleyan’s Jack Horenberger Field, including Tuesday’s opener against the Oilmen. This field has a unique quirk – it’s located on the border of Bloomington and twin-city Normal, so it’s possible to hit the ball into the next town and still have it caught for an out.
About the Matchup
This is the first meeting of the 2018 season between the Oilmen and the Bobcats. The last time these two teams met was in the MCL Playoffs last season. The top-seeded Oilmen fell to fourth-seeded Bloomington in the best-of-three series. The Bobcats won the rubber match by a score of 7-6. That game also gave Bloomington an upper hand in the all-time series. The Bobcats hold the slightest edge over Northwest Indiana, 10-9 in a series that dates back to 2016.
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