07/26/2017 4:49 PM -
The Northwest Indiana Oilmen haven’t had first place to themselves in the MCL this season. NWI has been a tough beat all year and comfortably in the playoff position for most of the season, but never the top dog. The DuPage County Hounds have held that honor all year. The Hounds started the season 11-1 and have held off the rest of the MCL for the entire season going into Tuesday night. NWI had finally clawed its way into a tie for first place with DuPage County, and the Hounds and Oilmen met for the final time in the regular season Tuesday night with the winner taking the top spot in the league to themselves. It was the biggest game of the year to that point, and the Hounds stepped up to take back what had been theirs all summer.
Through the first three innings, both teams were sent down in order at the plate. The Oilmens’ Nate Thomas and the Hounds’ Jay Militello put on a show in the early innings, with the only hit coming off the bat of Mitch Buban in the top of the third. He was sent back to the dugout on a double play later in the inning. In the fourth, Thomas cracked first.
The Hounds got two walks to start the top of the fourth inning and put runners on first and second. Brandon Post followed them with two hits which scored Joe Becht and Tristan Welch and gave DuPage a 2-0 lead. With still nobody out, it only took a pair of ground outs to score two more runs in the inning and go up four.
Hounds’ starter Jay Militello now worked with a four-run cushion, and didn’t let the Oilmen come close to getting back in the game. Militello took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. He allowed just three base runners (all walks) and struck out 10 through seven innings. The Oilmen’s first hit came with one out in the eighth when Alec Olud, who was playing in his first game since July 12, hit a chopping ground ball over the head of third baseman Austin Tittle. Militello left after the eighth, and the Oilmen scored their only run in the ninth inning off reliever Zac Bianucci. The offense was entirely shut down for over two-thirds of the game, and the Hounds won, 6-1.
“His fastball was just explosive,” Oilmen coach Adam Enright said after the game. “He threw off-speed when he absolutely needed it and was just missing barrels all day. Not only was he getting lots of swings and misses and lots of foul balls, but he was behind in tons of counts. We were 2-0, 3-1 all the time and he was just challenging with fastballs and he’s just beating us. That’s the sign of a guy who’s got really electric stuff.”
Militello got the win after giving up just one hit with 11 strikeouts and three walks in eight innings, while Nate Thomas took the loss after the four-run fourth. The Hounds improved to 32-14 with the victory, while the Oilmen dropped to 30-15 and lost a seven-game win streak. After the loss, Coach Enright told his team to keep its focus on the bigger goal.
“We’re 13-4 in July,” Enright said. “We have a chance for first place and to win the regular season, but we all know that’s a moot point when it comes to the importance of the postseason. That’s when it’s important to be playing our best baseball, so don’t let this game take us away from playing our best baseball.”
The Oilmen play their final home game of the season Wednesday against the Joliet Admirals at Oil City Stadium. With five games to play, the Oilmen are one game behind the Hounds in the loss column.