08/13/2021 11:31 PM -
Whiting, Ind. – Aug. 13, 2021 – The Northwest Indiana Oilmen are knocking on the door of their fourth Midwest Collegiate League title.
The Oilmen trailed 5-0 in the middle of the second inning on Friday night at Oil City Stadium, but rallied with a six-run second to take the lead for good in a 13-6 triumph over the Joliet Generals in Game 1 of the best-of-three MCL Championship Series.
“After the first inning and a half, I was wondering if our guys were nervous or what was going on,” Oilmen manager TJ Marik said. “Obviously, our offense turned it on and cleaned everything up. Our defense didn’t help us out early, but once we cleaned that up, it was a good day. We hit the ball really well today and even our outs were hard outs.”
With the Oilmen trailing 5-2 in the bottom of the second, Anthony Fumagalli (Purdue Northwest / Plainfield, Ill.) delivered a two-out, two-run single to move NWI to within a run. Later in the inning, he scored the go-ahead run on a passed ball. That was only the beginning of the day for the veteran shortstop, who reached base five times including three hits and drove in four. His two-run double highlighted a four-run eighth that put the game out of reach.
“I’ve known Fumo for a couple years now,” Marik said. “The first thing I think of with him is leadership. He’s been in these situations before, so he’s used to it. He’s 23 years old, one of the older guys on the team, and he knows when he has to step up. He knows that these guys look up to him. His production offensively was huge for us.”
The Oilmen hit was locked in all day, as Colin Bruce (Black Hawk / Naperville, Ill.), Anthony Villarreal (Calumet College / Highland, Ind.), Christian Williams (Michigan State / Plainfield, Ill.) and Kevin McCormick (Evansville / Orland Park, Ill.) had two hits apiece. After the Oilmen grabbed the lead with the six-run second, Andrew Petsche (Purdue Northwest / Oswego, Ill.) belted a solo shot in the third for his first NWI home run.
The hosts played from behind early in part due to wobbly defense as the team committed three errors in the first two frames. Hunter Keim (Saint Leo / Rock Island, Ill.) battled adversity early before settling into a groove and sending down nine straight Generals. He earned the win with 5 1/3 innings of seven-hit, six-run (three earned) ball while striking out four and walking three.
“Hunter did a tremendous job today, especially battling the adversity that he faced early in the game,” Marik said. “Like every single guy on this roster, I have a lot of confidence in him. Just because we were down five doesn’t mean that he didn’t have his best stuff. He wasn’t finishing with two strikes, but once I saw him make that adjustment, I could see he was going to be pretty locked in.”
Nick Heiden (Aurora / Minooka, Ill.) did not permit a hit, walk or run over his 2 2/3 innings of shutout ball while striking out three. Heiden again came through in a high-leverage situation as he entered with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth and yielded just one run.
“Nick Heiden is a bulldog,” Marik said. “He has a heavy sinker with a pretty good breaking ball on top of it. He’s someone who is really hard to hit.”
The Oilmen will attempt to nail down their fourth league title and first since 2018 with a victory on Saturday night in Game 2 of the series. The game is slated to begin at 7:10 p.m. with tickets available at the stadium box office. For those who cannot attend, Brandon Vickrey and Leo Staudacher will have the call on the Oilmen Broadcasting Network, which is available on AM 1230 WJOB and JED-TV.
“It feels good getting Game 1, but that doesn’t mean we can take things lightly,” Marik said. “Joliet is a really good team. They scored six runs and hit the ball well today. We have to play with the same relaxed intensity that we did today if we want to have success in Game 2.”