08/02/2018 7:08 AM -
Whiting, Ind. – Aug. 1, 2018 – For a team that seems to have a new hero each game, Tyler Kenjic (Purdue Northwest / Hobart, Ind.) became the biggest hero of all on Wednesday night at Oil City Stadium.
One swing cemented Kenjic’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen legacy as he belted a go-ahead, three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning, turning a 4-3 Oilmen deficit into a 7-4 lead in an eventual 7-5 triumph over the Southland Vikings. In the process, he helped the Oilmen sweep the Vikings in the best-of-three MCL Semifinal Series and punch their ticket to their fourth MCL Championship Series appearance.
“Earlier in the game, we had plenty of opportunities to score and we didn’t come through,” Kenjic said. “I had some prior at-bats where I was really disappointed and thought I could hit some balls well. Going into that at-bat with second and third and one out, I really wanted to do some damage at that point in the game. I didn’t want to fail my teammates. I wanted to come through and make something happen and give us a chance to win.”
There’s no shortage of storylines regarding the heart-pounding Kenjic blast against Southland reliever Robert Keaton, who took the loss after allowing four earned runs on five hits in 1/3 of an inning. The go-ahead home run – a tape-measure job that sailed over the tall left-field scoreboard – came against Kenjic’s former team as he played with the Vikings in 2017. It came in perhaps one of Kenjic’s final baseball games as he may not return to Purdue Northwest’s team following this season. And it came on a night when Kenjic wasn’t even in the initial starting lineup, but was pressed into duty due to a late scratch.
“That’s a special one because I’ve never felt that connection with the ball, where I was able to look at the dugout when I hit it and say, ‘Let’s go,’” Kenjic said. “It’s weird after playing for the Vikings last year and us winning the MCL, and now putting an end to their season. Some of my buddies on the Vikings congratulated me. This was a special moment.”
Shortly after the game ended, acting Oilmen manager Matt Vitulli was one of numerous individuals in the ballpark whose heart rate seemed to still be returning to normal levels.
“I knew he was swinging it well all day and was going to do something for us,” Vitulli said. “That’s one of the hardest hit home runs I’ve ever seen. That was huge, especially given the situation and the pressure. Kenjic didn’t let the atmosphere and the emotion of the game impact what he was going to do at the plate.”
Nick Figus (Illinois Wesleyan / Frankfort, Ill.) had four hits for an Oilmen team that won the column that counts despite being outhit 12-11. Both starting pitchers received no decisions including Brendan Kelly (Purdue Northwest / Grandville, Mich.), who allowed four earned runs on 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings.
But for the second straight night, the depth of the Oilmen pitching staff was on display after the starters were done for the day. Chad Patrick (Purdue Northwest / Hebron, Ind.) allowed one run on two hits and struck out five over 3 1/3 innings, picking up the victory.
“Chad’s velocity, control and mixing of pitches was great tonight,” Vitulli said. “I think we have the deepest pitching staff in the league. For us to come out and show it is phenomenal.”
Before the four-run eighth highlighted by Kenjic’s big fly, the Oilmen had scored single tallies in the fifth, sixth and seventh. Jake Plastiak (Wichita State / Tinley Park, Ill.) had just missed a go-ahead home run of his own with a deep fly ball to the warning track in right, and Jake Perreira (University of Indianapolis / Grant Park, Ill.) preceded the Kenjic homer with a ground-rule double that skipped over the left-field wall.
Fittingly, the Oilmen came from behind to win both games in the series. They’ve made comeback wins a signature move this season.
“We’ve got a lot of grit in this clubhouse,” Vitulli said. “When we fell behind early, we knew we were going to put up runs and come back. We’ve been hot for weeks. We had a lot of hard-hit outs today. Credit the Vikings for a lot of great defensive plays, and credit us because we didn’t let that rain on our parade. We kept plugging. This is great to see.”
The Oilmen are on to the MCL Championship Series, which will open on Friday night at either 5 p.m. at the Lemont Sports Complex or 7:10 p.m. at Oil City Stadium. The Oilmen await the winner of the series between the Bloomington Bobcats and DuPage County Hounds, which has reached a decisive third game on Thursday. Check back to NWIOilmen.com for additional information.