07/06/2018 11:17 PM -
Whiting, Ind. – July 6, 2018 – It felt like a playoff game on Friday night at Oil City Stadium.
A good crowd was treated to an entertaining night of baseball that featured quality starting pitching, a play at the plate, clutch home runs, a managerial chess match and a walk-off win for the Northwest Indiana Oilmen.
Chris Baker (Trinity Christian / Chicago Heights, Ill.) ripped a single to right center in the bottom of the ninth, allowing Hunter Thorn (Purdue Northwest / Portage, Ind.) to book it home from second and send the Oilmen into celebration after a 4-3 victory over the Southland Vikings.
The Oilmen, who scored in each of the last three innings, upped their record to 5-0 in one-run games. After Thorn walked to lead off the bottom of the ninth, the chess match between Oilmen manager Adam Enright and Southland skipper Dave Letourneau was on. Cory Krolikowski (Minnesota Duluth / Bartlett, Ill.) bunted Thorn to second, then Enright inserted the dangerous Nate Montgomery (Tusculum / Geneva, Ill.) as a pinch hitter. Letourneau walked Montgomery intentionally, then Baker delivered the game-ending single.
“I knew that if we got one of the first two guys on, Montgomery was going to hit,” Oilmen manager Adam Enright said. “No matter where that runner is, he’s in scoring position with Nate batting. Thorn and Krolikowski both have decent speed, so they could score on a ball in the gap. That forced them to do what they did, which was walk Montgomery. I was much more willing to let them walk him and hit for (Jake) Perreira than let Perreira hit and hit for Baker because of the righty vs. lefty matchup. I felt good about Baker facing a righty there.”
The Oilmen were in position to win with a run in the bottom of the ninth thanks to solo home runs in each of the previous two innings. Krolikowski belted a tape-measure job over the right-field fence in the seventh, then Nick Figus (Illinois Wesleyan / Frankfort, Ill.) narrowly cleared the wall in left center in the eighth to tie the game at three. The Oilmen already have 16 home runs this summer, just one away from matching 2015 for the most home runs by the team in franchise history.
“We have a lot of guys whose offensive identity is power,” Enright said. “We still have a decent amount of speed, but not like we’ve had in the past. One thing we talk about a lot is how are you going to create big innings for us as individuals and how are you going to get yourself into scoring position. It’s hard to string singles together and score runs. If most of your hits are doubles and home runs, it’s hard to keep runs off the board. If you look at any big swing of the game, it usually involves an extra-base hit.”
Figus laced a run-scoring triple down the right-field line with nobody out in the first inning, giving the Oilmen an early 1-0 lead that would stand until the sixth. After the Figus triple, Southland starter Anthony Rogers struck out seven consecutive batters and 11 of the next 12. Remarkably, he had 11 strikeouts through four innings.
“He did a really good job of establishing areas of the zone that he was going to use,” Enright said. “One of those areas was down and away with a fastball. If you’re there all the time, you might extend two inches, then three or four inches, and see what you’re going to get. If you’re there consistently, you’re going to get those calls. Rogers did a good job getting the umpire in strike mode. He exploited our strike-zone discipline where we were swinging at fastballs up, especially late in counts.”
The Vikings nearly tied the game in the fifth, but Baker delivered a strike to the plate to gun down a runner trying to score on a single to center to keep the Oilmen on top 1-0.
Alex Voss (Butler / South Bend, Ind.) did not allow a run until the sixth, when the Vikings (15-8) plated three unearned tallies with help from a pair of Oilmen errors. Voss received no decision after allowing three runs (none earned) while scatting eight hits, striking out six and walking a pair over six innings.
“His changeup was so good early on,” Enright said. “It almost looked like a slider out there with how it was moving. Late in the game, due to fatigue, he was missing in the left-handed batter’s box and getting behind more often. We made an error that prolonged the three-run inning. You couldn’t really ask for much more out of Voss.”
Rogers finished with 12 strikeouts and was charged with two earned runs on three hits and one walk in seven frames, also walking away from a quality start with no decision. Gil Loza (1-1) allowed the game-tying home run and walk-off single, so he was charged with the defeat. Pedro Rodriguez (Tusculum / Kissimmee, Fla.) worked three scoreless innings in his best outing of the year, earning the victory to improve to 2-1. He issued no walks and struck out seven to help the Oilmen (17-13) pull within two games of the Vikings for second in the MCL.
The Oilmen will be back at it on Saturday at 6:10 p.m. against the Joliet Generals on Military Appreciation Night at Oil City Stadium. Tickets are available now on NWIOilmen.com. Brandon Vickrey and Sam Michel will have the call on the Oilmen Broadcasting Network via Facebook Live.