Whiting, Ind. – Aug. 14, 2021 – The emotions in the Northwest Indiana Oilmen dugout following Saturday night’s game ranged from anger to sadness to shock.
But there’s little doubt in the mind of the Oilmen manager TJ Marik about his team’s ability to bounce back in Sunday’s decisive third game of the Midwest Collegiate League Championship Series.
“We’re going to be fine,” Marik said.
The Joliet Generals forced the aforementioned Game 3 by stunning the Oilmen 4-3 in 10 innings in Game 2 at Oil City Stadium. The Oilmen were two outs away from clinching the MCL title with a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth when Joe Virrusso sent a game-tying single into left to put the celebratory photoshoot on hold. With two outs in the bottom of the 10th, Jacob Small grounded a single to right and Alex Steinbach (Nova Southeastern / Plainfield, Ill.) unleased a strong throw to the plate. Joliet’s Brandon Matias maneuvered his way around the tag with a swim move and was ruled safe on a close play to extend the series in walk-off fashion.
“The hitter stayed on the ball and drove it through the four hole, where Mike Carey was pinched toward second base a little bit,” Marik said. “He found a hole, and Alex Steinbach made a really good throw to the play. Christian Williams went to tag the runner, but it was a really nice swim move by the General player. That’s baseball. This was a really good baseball game.”
The Oilmen had runners at second and third and nobody out in the top of the eighth inning, trying to add on to a 3-2 lead. Mike Carey (John A. Logan / Tinley Park, Ill.) lifted a pop fly in shallow foul territory along the first-base line and Christian Williams (Michigan State / Carmel, Ind.) tagged at third to try to score the insurance run. The throw beat him to the plate, but the sliding runner jarred the ball loose and he was ruled safe as the Oilmen appeared to extend the lead to 4-2. However, the Generals appealed to third and Williams was ruled to have left early, so the lead remained one.
“As a first baseman, his back was turned so he would have had to do a spin move and make a really good throw to the plate, which he did an OK job on,” Marik said. “Both my and Christian’s thought process was, ‘We’re going to test it here.’ We wanted to put a lot of pressure on the defense like we have all year. We’ve had a lot of guys thrown out this year because we’re super aggressive and put pressure on the defense, but we pick up a lot of bases as well. In that instance, the throw did beat him but the ball dropped, so he was safe, but I 100 percent admit that he did leave early. That shouldn’t have affected us the rest of the game, but that play did give them momentum after he was called out the second time.”
Prior to Joliet’s game-tying run in the bottom of the ninth, neither team had scored since the second inning. The Generals jumped on the board when Brandon Matias belted a two-run homer that narrowly cleared the right-center field fence in the opening inning. The Oilmen responded in the top of the second with a three-run frame highlighted by a two-run single by Carey.
The Generals nearly tied the game in the bottom of the third, but a fortunate ricochet on a would-be wild pitch allowed Williams to tag out Brennan Fisher at the plate.
Marik used six pitchers on a staff day where everything went according to plan up until the ninth inning. Nolan Lorenz (IU South Bend / LaPorte, Ind.) bounced back from the first-inning home run to allow just the two runs on four hits while striking out four over four innings. The first four Oilmen relievers all worked scoreless frames with the Generals mustering up just two hits and no walks over four innings against Tom Conzemius (Quincy / Deerfield, Ill.), Mason Kasprisin (St. Charles / Joliet, Ill.), Tyler Preissing (Webster / Mount Prospect, Ill.) and Nick Miketinac (Butler / St. John, Ind.). None of them threw more than 15 pitches.
“They did an absolutely great job,” Marik said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more than what the bullpen did. The reason I did that was No. 1 to get them work, and they got work. They are all going to be ready for tomorrow because none of them threw more than 15 pitches.”
Nick Heiden (Aurora / Minooka, Ill.) took the mound for the second straight night and the third time this postseason in the bottom of the ninth in a save scenario with his team clinging to the 3-2 edge. He was touched for two runs on four hits while striking out three and walking two in his 1 2/3 innings to take the defeat.
Joliet’s Nick Vollmert tossed five shutout innings of two-hit relief while walking one and striking out two for a well-deserved win.
The game featured numerous stellar defensive plays as AJ Wright (Northwood / Griffith, Ind.) was a human highlight reel in center while both shortstops – Joliet’s Bryce Vincent and NWI’s Anthony Fumagalli (Purdue Northwest / Plainfield, Ill.) – had golden days with the glove. Wright had three hits to pace the Oilmen offense.
The MCL title will be up for grabs on Sunday at 5:10 p.m. at Oil City Stadium as the Oilmen and Generals clash in a winner-take-all Game 3. Tickets will be available at the stadium box office. For those who cannot attend, Brandon Vickrey and Jon Zaghloul will have the call on the Oilmen Broadcasting Network, available on AM 1230 WJOB and JED-TV.