07/09/2015 8:53 PM -
Whiting, Ind. – July 9, 2015 – Going into Thursday’s game, everything seemed to favor the Northwest Indiana Oilmen.
They had South Carolina right-hander and 2014 Major League Baseball draftee Brandon Murray on the mound, making his Oilmen debut. They were fresh off three consecutive days off for the All-Star Break. They were facing the league’s last place team.
To top it off, a scheduled road game was moved to the home confines of Oil City Stadium due to unplayable field conditions at Hap Bruno Field.
The only issue? Tuesday’s game wasn’t played on paper.
Southland rode the arm of starter Matt Sandoval to a 7-5 victory over the Oilmen. The Purdue Calumet hurler and Bishop Noll graduate allowed two runs on three hits over six strong innings to pick up the victory, his first decision of the year.
“The only thing I was frustrated with was the lack of an approach against Sandoval,” Oilmen manager Adam Enright said. “Sandoval is a good pitcher. He was mixing three pitches for strikes and not doubling up all that often. Our guys were sitting dead red on fastball and not saying, ‘OK, I’m not going to see two fastballs in a row.’ I would have liked to see our guys think the game a little more.”
The big blow of the game came in the second inning, when Jake Hickey launched a grand slam against Murray. The former Hobart High School ace had already forced in a run and totaled three walks and a hit batter in the inning.
The Vikings tacked on a run against him in the third, an RBI single by Jeff Cardenas. Murray settled down, sending the Vikings down in order in the fourth, his final frame. He was making his first in-game appearance in over a month.
“I missed the zone on pitches in key counts and that puts me in a bad situation,” Murray said. “I struggled going inside with the fastball. Wood bats are a little bit different approach out there. I know what I need to work on. I need to establish the changeup, and later in the outing I did and it worked well.”
Murray is transitioning back to a starting role after coming out of the bullpen at South Carolina this spring.
“Once he figured some things out and we talked about pitch sequence, in the next inning he was really clean,” Enright said. “For him in the summer, it’s going to be a work in progress. He’s got to get back to changing pace with a changeup and getting a little more rhythm and timing so he can go deep in games.”
Fred Smart, who went 4-for-5 with two doubles, cracked a two-run two-bagger in the sixth to get the Oilmen on the board. The Vikings responded with an unearned run in the seventh.
The Oilmen made it dramatic by scoring twice and getting the tying run into scoring position in the ninth, but Brian Henry induced Zack Jones into a game-ending ground out as the Oilmen left the bases loaded. They also stranded the maximum in the seventh and one in scoring position in the eighth.
Alec Barnhart, who will play at Trinity Christian next year, made his Oilmen debut. He played in the Midwest Collegiate League in 2014 with the Joliet Admirals. Barnhart went 0-for-3 and struck out twice on Thursday.
Christian Howell threw five innings, allowing only one run (unearned) on two hits while striking out five and walking none.
“In the All-Star Game, there were a lot of hitters in the dugout saying, ‘This guy carves me up man; this guy is tough,’” Enright said.
The Oilmen (15-9) slip to ½ game behind DuPage County for the top spot in the Midwest Collegiate League. The Vikings (7-13) picked up their first win over the Oilmen this season.
Northwest Indiana returns to the diamond on Friday at 5 p.m. at Marquette Athletic Complex against the Michigan City Lakers.