07/31/2018 11:41 PM -
Whiting, Ind. – July 31, 2018 – Both teams had an ace, but only one had an ace in the hole on Tuesday night at Oil City Stadium.
Another prolific offensive showing coupled with the heroic relief work of Max Franklin (Heartland / Chicago Heights, Ill.) propelled the Northwest Indiana Oilmen past the Southland Vikings 12-7 in Game 1 of a best-of-three Midwest Collegiate League semifinal series.
Starting pitcher Christian Howell (Trinity Christian / Aurora, Ill.) was charged with seven earned runs on eight hits and four walks in four innings, and he did not record an out in the fifth before being removed.
A five-run fifth inning could have been worse, but then Franklin happened. He happened in the sixth, too. And the seventh. And the eighth. And the ninth. When it was all said and done, the right-hander who had been a starter during the regular season had gone the length of a start, twirling five scoreless innings out of the bullpen while yielding just two hits and walking one. The final out of the evening was his eighth strikeout of the game.
“He mixed his pitches extremely well,” acting Oilmen manager Matt Vitulli said. “Jake Perreira called a nice game behind the plate. He worked both sides of the plate, inside and outside, while mixing up speeds. That kept them off balance. We got what we expected out of Franklin in terms of throwing strikes.”
Franklin has worked as a starting pitcher over the summer for the Oilmen, but he is no stronger to coming out of the pen as relief work was his primary duty at Heartland the last two seasons.
“It’s more unusual starting in the summer than it is relieving, so tonight was just picking up where I left off in the spring,” Franklin said. “I prefer relieving, but with working and other things in the summer, it’s nice to start. Howell has been really good all summer, so I’m glad I was able to pick him up and we were able to win tonight.”
Southland starter Anthony Rogers labored through 4 2/3 innings against a red-hot Oilmen offense that scored five runs on six hits and six walks against him. After Southland’s five-run fifth turned the game on its head, the Oilmen had a quick response by scoring a pair in the sixth to draw even at seven.
It was the Oilmen’s turn for a five-run frame in the seventh as Nate Montgomery (Tusculum / Geneva, Ill.) belted a two-run homer to put the exclamation mark on the inning and break the backs of the Vikings.
The prosperous top of the seventh for the Oilmen was the final run scoring of the game by either team. Jackson Dvorak (Missouri St. Louis / New Lenox, Ill.) and Amir Wright (St. Leo / Griffith, Ind.) racked up three hits apiece, while Montgomery enjoyed a four RBI performance.
“We’re hot,” Vitulli said. “We had good at-bats up and down the lineup, one through nine. Nick Figus had a key at-bat that got us going. Winning Game 1 is very important, and now we’re in the driver’s seat.”
The other key storyline was the base running as the Oilmen stole nine bases in the game. Wright swiped four bags on his own.
The Oilmen will have a chance to clinch their fourth MCL Championship Series appearance on Wednesday night at Oil City Stadium. The game begins at 7:10 p.m. and will be broadcast on the Oilmen Broadcasting Network via Facebook Live with Brandon Vickrey and Dan Harty on the call. Tickets are available for $5 on NWIOilmen.com.