08/05/2016 8:14 PM -
Lemont, Ill. – Aug. 5, 2016 – In a game where they were facing three of their college teammates, Northwest Indiana’s Eastern Illinois duo paved the way to victory.
One Panther got it done with the bat and the other with his arm as the Oilmen pulled away from DuPage County for an 8-4 win in Game 1 of the Midwest Collegiate League Championship Series on Friday at the Lemont Sports Complex.
Jordan Flint (Eastern Illinois / Bartlett, Ill.) belted a bases-clearing triple in the third for the big blow, while Hunter Clark (Eastern Illinois / Granger, Ind.) picked up the win by allowing only one run on five hits and striking out four over 4 1/3 innings out of the bullpen.
Those contributions helped the Oilmen pull within one win of their second league title and first since 2012. They can nail down the championship with a win in Game 2 of the series, which will take place at 7:20 p.m. at Oil City Stadium on Saturday.
Flint and Jake Perreira (University of Indianapolis / Grant Park, Ill.) – two guys that may not have been in the Oilmen starting lineup if the team was fully healthy – came up big for the Oilmen. Perreira continued his hot postseason with two hits, including a run-scoring single as part of the five-run third.
“The sign of a championship-caliber team is one where you can rely on different people to step up each night,” Oilmen manager Adam Enright said. “The big play can come from anybody. Every night, someone different can step up and do the job of delivering. You’re not relying on two or three guys to do everything.”
The five-run third inning allowed the Oilmen to regain the lead after DuPage County went ahead on a two-run homer by Mike Roberson in the second. The Oilmen struck first when Tyler Sroczynski reached on an error and came around to score on a wild pitch in the first inning.
Oilmen starter Sam Geraci (Illinois Springfield / Steger, Ill.) lost his control with two outs in the fourth, hitting a batter and then walking three straight to force in a run. Sensing his starter was at the end of his day, Enright summoned Clark into the game with the bases loaded, two outs and the Oilmen up 6-3. Clark induced an inning-ending fly ball.
“At that point, Sam was all over the place,” Enright said. “We didn’t know how far we were going to be able to get with Sam, and once he walked in a run we didn’t want to see it go any further than that. Clark’s been a guy out of the ‘pen who can throw up a zero or two in a row, and I told him zeros keep you out there.”
After working out of Geraci’s jam in the fourth, Clark escaped his own dilemma in the fifth inning when he yielded three straight one-out hits, but used a strikeout and a bouncer to short to escape unscathed.
“He just kept fooling hitters,” Enright said. “Guys were taking some less than ideal swings against him. If he doesn’t do what he does, it’s a much different game. A lot of people think the saves or the hold happens at the back end of the game, but there are situations in the game that are the game, and they might not be in the last inning.”
No postseason game would be complete without a contribution from Stefano Belmonte (Florida Gulf Coast / Munster, Ind.), who clubbed a two-run double in the eighth to boost the lead to five.
Braden Niksich (Illinois State / Hobart, Ind.) pitched a scoreless ninth to secure the Oilmen victory.
DuPage starter Chase Lowman was tagged with the loss after allowing six runs (five earned) on seven hits in six innings. John Dreveny and Zach Girard had two hits apiece for the Hounds, while Perreira was the only Oilmen player with multiple hits.
The win in the championship series was the first for the Oilmen since exactly four years prior, when they clinched the 2012 series with a victory over DeKalb. Now, the Oilmen can nail down their first league title since their inaugural season with a win on Saturday. Tickets are available now on NWIOilmen.com.