Whiting, Ind. – Aug. 11, 2022 – The Northwest Indiana Oilmen may not have accomplished the ultimate goal of winning the Northern League title, but there was no shortage of bright spots during the 2022 summer season.
When asked to list players who shined the brightest this summer following Wednesday’s 8-7 and 14-1 losses to the Lake County Corn Dogs in Games 1 and 2 of the Northern League Championship Series at Legacy Fields in Crown Point, Oilmen manager Adam Enright had a lengthy response.
“We were littered with bright spots,” Enright said. “Jack Zebig is just starting his college career and is really exciting. On the other end of that, Chris Baker getting a chance to play and put himself in a position to find a contract. Everywhere in between, there are major bright spots. Nick Heiden didn’t throw a lot in the spring for Aurora. He was a really reliable arm for us in the summer. Jake Ostrowski was coming off a disappointing spring, and he came in and found himself this summer. There are a lot of individual accomplishments that will pay off when we get to see them play next spring.”
The Oilmen struck first in the opening inning of Game 1 on a solo shot by Cain Headrick. The cushion expanded to four thanks to a three-run second that was highlighted by Josh Cunniff’s two-run double. The 4-0 lead stayed intact until the bottom of the fourth of a seven-inning game, when the Corn Dogs scored twice to get back in it. Lake County added a fifth-inning run to whittle the deficit to one.
Kyle Czarnecki doubled in a run in the top of the sixth, but the Corn Dogs scored three times in the bottom of the inning to take their first lead of the game at 6-5. The Oilmen were down to two outs left to work with, but Jack Zebig ripped an RBI triple in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game at six. Zebig was stranded at third, but the Oilmen put up a zero in the bottom of the seventh to get the game to extras.
NWI took the lead on a sacrifice fly by David Marshall, but the team made an out at the plate trying to score on a wild pitch to end the inning without further damage. In the bottom of the eighth, Lake County had runners at first and second with nobody out when a wild pickoff throw to first scored the tying run to make it 7-7. The runner from first advanced to third and was called safe on a close play, a call that was argued by Enright. The Oilmen intentionally walked the bases loaded and brought in a fifth infielder, but a bouncing ball over the third-base bag by Tyler Schultz provided a walk-off hit and an 8-7 victory for the Corn Dogs in a seesaw battle.
“Someone had to bat last in that game,” Enright said. “With how that game was going, we could have played 100 innings, and it probably would have just kept going back and forth. Not scoring in three situations where we had runners in scoring position, and a couple of those with less than two outs, were the spots that allowed them to stay within striking distance. We had opportunities to put up crooked numbers, and against the Corn Dogs, leads have to be more than two or three runs because they can put runs on the board in a hurry.”
The Oilmen had to turn around and play the second game of the series 30 minutes later, a contest that saw the Corn Dogs win 14-1 behind an eight-run fourth that featured eight walks. Oilmen pitching walked 12 in the seven-inning game.
“That first game was the series, in my opinion,” Enright said. “To come back from that from the losing side is close to impossible, especially against the quality competition that the Corn Dogs are. On the winning side of that, you have renewed energy for the second game during a long night. I think it’s pretty obvious, we did everything we could to try to win that first game because that was the tale of the series.”
The Oilmen reached the postseason for the 11th straight year, finished above .500 for the 11th consecutive season and reached the league championship series for the fifth straight year and eighth time overall.