05/27/2017 4:17 PM -
After a rainout Friday delayed the start of the 2017 season, the Northwest Indiana Oilmen lost their first game to the Bloomington Bobcats in a pitching duel, 1-0 in 10 innings.
NWI starter Richard Yelnick brought his best stuff to the mound in the season opener. Yelnick got himself into a bases-loaded jam in the first inning with just one out, but struck out Bloomington’s Garrett Shea and Mitch Fairfield to get out of the inning unharmed. He wouldn’t allow another base runner. Yelnick finished his five innings of work without giving up a run and stuck out 10 Bobcats in the process, including five in a row from the third to fifth innings.
“He’s a guy that not only keeps you in the game, but gives you a chance to win,” Coach Adam Enright said. “He keeps you in the game as far as the pace that he works at and how quickly it always moves when he’s pitching. He’s not a guy that’s going to go into a bunch of deep counts and walk guys and have the defenders behind him fall asleep. Usually, they’re involved and there’s lots of ground balls put in play and it’s very up-tempo baseball.”
Bloomington starter Jackson Bronke was even better. He allowed only two base runners in six innings (both of them base hits to Oilmen catcher Hunter Thorn), and struck out 12.
Relievers for both teams continued where their starters left off. Northwest Indiana’s Matt Garbacz and Bloomington’s Sam Gordon threw scoreless innings through the eighth, and both offenses were stymied by the excellent pitching. Going into the ninth, the Oilmen had mustered just four hits to the Bobcats’ five. NWI put a runner on base in the ninth when Hunter Thorn got his fourth hit of the day, but with two outs Thorn was caught stealing to end the inning. The Bobcats went down in order in the bottom of the ninth, and the first game of the Oilmen’s sixth season headed to extra innings.
After a quiet top of the 10th from Northwest Indiana, the Bobcats threatened early in the bottom half of the inning. Aidan Cossio came off the bench and led off with a base hit. After a sacrifice bunt from Jacob Houghton advanced Cossio into scoring position, Oilmen pitcher Sam Geraci hit Gino Cavalieri to put runners on first and second. Those runners advanced to second and third after a pitch to Nick Figus got away from Oilmen catcher Hunter Thorn. Figus flew out to right fielder Chris Baker later in the at-bat, and Cossio was sent home to try and win the game. Baker made a strong throw from right which would have made for a close play at the plate, but Thorn couldn’t field the throw cleanly and Cossio scored the game-winning run.
Coach Enright knows there will be days when the bats just aren’t there, and after a tough day in the batter’s box the third-year coach preached fundamentals to his team.
“The only thing we talked about after the game was how important base running is in a league like this because switching over to wood bats, a lot of guys haven’t seen live pitching in a few weeks. Being able to take 90 feet any time we have the opportunity to… we need to do that. That was the big takeaway. We’re not just going to string together a bunch of hits at any time. We can’t just sit back and expect to get three hits in a row to score one run.”
The only bright spot on the offensive side was catcher Hunter Thorn. After playing with the Southland Vikings last summer, Thorn tallied four hits in his Oilmen debut. The rest of the team combined for just one: a bunt single from Dashon Moore.
“That’s baseball,” Enright said. “Chalk it up to whatever you want, there’s really no explanation. Thorn did well last year with the Vikings and this year at PNW. We expect Hunter to do that all the time, but why he would be able to see it well and put a day together when nobody else could, I don’t know.”
The Bobcats’ Zach Frey pitched the last two innings for Bloomington and picked up his first win of the season to improve to 1-0. Geraci took the lost and fell to 0-1.
The Oilmen are back on the road tomorrow for an MCL Championship rematch against the DuPage County Hounds. Northwest Indiana defeated DuPage County in three games last summer to win its second MCL title.
To see the box score from today's game, click on "Download Attachment".