08/02/2017 11:57 AM -
Tuesday night, the reigning MCL champion Northwest Indiana Oilmen started their title defense at Oil City Stadium. For the first time in its six seasons, NWI entered the playoffs with the No. 1 seed, and the Oilmen hosted the Bloomington Bobcats for Game 1 in front of the hometown fans. In a low-scoring game, a late comeback gave the Bobcats a 1-0 in the best-of-three MCL semifinal.
Both starting pitchers threw outstanding games. NWI’s Nate Thomas gave up six hits in six and two-thirds innings and didn’t allow a run. He struck out six Bobcats and only walked one. Dalton Hottle threw eight innings for the Bobcats and only allowed one run on seven hits. He struck out three Oilmen and walked one.
The only run of the day for the Oilmen came in the fourth inning. Amir Wright doubled for Northwest Indiana’s only extra-base hit of the night, and two batters later Chris Baker hit a two-out single to score Wright and give the Oilmen the first run of the game. After Thomas left the game in the seventh inning, reliever Caleb Matthews threw an inning and a third without giving up a hit. The Oilmen took their 1-0 lead into the ninth inning, when Rory Gard came on for the save.
Gard had one of the best regular seasons on the mound in Oilmen history. He only allowed one run the entire season, which was good enough to set the team single-season ERA record at 0.41. He allowed to singles to start the inning and put runners on first and third with nobody out. After a visit on the mound from Oilmen manager Adam Enright, pinch-hitter Jacob Houghton reached on an error by Danny Torres. Bloomington’s Zach Frey scored from third and tied the game. With runners on first and second, Nate Beal laid down a sacrifice bunt to put two in scoring position. A batter later, Jack Butler hit a soft single in front of Oilmen left fielder Tyler Sroczynski and scored two runs. The Bobcats took their first lead in the ninth inning, 3-1.
“In the last inning, they had a perfect storm of things happen that needed to happen,” Enright said. “Such is baseball, sometimes you hit it just enough to get to the second baseman very slowly and then you get jammed enough where it falls in front of the outfield and behind the infield. Hats off to them for scrapping that last inning. Even though they weren’t well-hit balls, nobody’s been able to do that against Rory all year.”
Zach Frey came in for the save in the bottom of the ninth, and set the Oilmen down in order by striking out the side. The Oilmen lost heartbreaker, 3-1.
The Bobcats’ Hottle got the win, while Gard took the loss for NWI. Frey got the save. Down 1-0 in the three-game series, the Oilmen need to win Wednesday in Bloomington to force a win-or-go-home Game 3 at Oil City Stadium Thursday night. “[I] let them know that us as coaches are invested in them winning,” Enright said after the game. “I’m sold that we’re not going to have the perfect storm of bad breaks at the perfect time. My money is on us scrapping another nine innings and things going the way they usually go and us be shaking hands around this time tomorrow and bringing it back here.”
Game 2 is at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.