After being postponed on back-to-back days due to rain, the Southland Vikings and Northwest Indiana Oilmen finally began their semifinals series on Monday night with the Vikings coming away with an 11-5 win at Oil City Stadium.
Northern League Pitcher of the Year and unanimous All-Northern League Team selection Nolan Vlcek started on the mound for the Vikings and did exactly what they needed him to do, shouldering the load and leading the team to victory.
Vlcek tossed 7 2/3 innings allowing five runs with eight strikeouts after being given a comfortable lead in the fifth inning.
“My arm was feeling great,” Vlcek said after throwing 135 pitches to pick up the win in his first career Northern League playoff start. “I felt great coming out. I gave up some runs, but this is playoff baseball and that’s going to happen. After the fifth inning, I really just settled in and went on cruise control and started pitching to contact.”
The top of the fifth inning was the turning point in the ballgame as the Vikings scored seven runs on just two hits to pull away and take a 9-1 lead at the time.
The Vikings scored a run in each of the first two innings but left more to be desired as they were unable to take full advantage of shaky control from Oilmen starter Brandon Laux.
That changed in the fifth when Laux was pulled after loading the bases with one out after a hit by pitch and two walks. Zach Kwasny came out of the bullpen for the Oilmen, but he struggled with command as well with two runs scoring on wild pitches to make the score 4-1.
Colin Small then came through with the first hit of the inning to help break the game open with a two-run single to right.
“I’ve cut down my stride and just wanted to be more on time,” Small said of his recent approach at the plate after going 3-for-5 with a run and two RBIs. “I feel like I’m catching a lot more barrels and I’m feeling really confident out there.”
The Vikings were outhit in the game 10-9, but capitalized on Oilmen mistakes scoring 11 runs, six of which were earned, with the help of four Oilmen errors and eleven walks.
“Big win, especially with Nolan on the mound,” manager Sullivan Stickann said after his first managerial playoff win at the collegiate level. “He’s the best pitcher in the league, so whenever he’s on the mound we need to find a way to win. He just continues to impress everybody every time he takes the mound.”
The Vikings will look to sweep the best-of-three semifinal series on Tuesday at Oil City Stadium when they will serve as the home team and bat second. First pitch is at 7:10 pm with Jorgie Vazquez expected to start on the mound for the Vikings.