07/28/2018 11:30 PM -
Midlothian, Ill. – July 28, 2018 – The 2018 MCL season concluded with a thriller at Howie Minas Field as the Panthers fell short in their comeback attempt against the Northwest Indiana Oilmen losing 9-6.
The Panthers dug themselves into too big a hole during the middle innings, and despite a barrage of hits in the late goings, they could not overcome a deficit which stood at seven runs at its largest point.
In spite of a losing effort, the Panthers broke the team’s single-game hits record by smacking 15 against a formidable Oilmen pitching staff. Evan Bell (Memphis/Oak Park, Ill.) led the way offensively with three hits while Blake Soria (South Mountain CC/Homer Glen, Ill.), Michael Jahnke (Coe College/Lansing, Ill.), Ben De Young (Olivet Nazarene/Thornton, Ill.), Jackson Shepherd (Mesa CC/Channahon, Ill.), and Michael Ruffolo (Rockhurst/Norridge, Ill.) each added two. With the exception of Shepherd, each player with two or more hits also recorded an RBI.
“It’s nice to see the players buy into the hitting philosophy I’ve been teaching all season long,” Panthers manager Isaac Valdez said. “It felt like as the season progressed, everyone got better at fixing their approaches at the plate and learning how to execute in various situations, so it was nice to see that all come together towards the end of the summer.”
It looked early on like the Oilmen were on their way to another lopsided victory over the Panthers. The visitors scored the game’s first run in the second inning and followed by registering three consecutive innings with two runs or more from the fourth to sixth innings. By the end of the sixth inning, the Oilmen held a comfortable 9-3 lead and looked to cruise to their 25th win of the season.
However, the Panthers turned it on at the plate in the seventh inning. Going up against a struggling Nick Wolf in his fourth inning of work, they scored three runs on five hits, prompting Oilmen acting manager Nate Vitulli to remove Wolf from the game. In the ninth inning, the Oilmen were forced to put closer Pedro Rodriguez on the mound to get the final three outs in a save situation, and the Panthers got the tying run to the plate before Rodriguez could hammer down the save.
“The team has fought hard all season long,” Valdez said. “It’s something I’ve always been quick to recognize them for. None of these guys ever lost their will to fight or ever gave up. I really respect that nobody was willing to ever give away an at-bat, an inning on the mound, or a chance in the field. Everybody gave their best effort when they took the field and I’m very proud of them for that.”
Following the loss, the Panthers conclude the 2018 season with a 6-29-1 final record. Even so, despite the challenges he and the team faced over the course of the summer, Valdez found a lot of positives to take away from his initial MCL experience.
“This season I really felt that I improved as a coach, especially in terms of dealing with relationships I have with the players,” Valdez said. “My biggest goal at the beginning of the year was just to continue to improve upon dealing with people. I concentrated on that quite a bit, and I did that at various times by pulling players aside and talking to them after games, calling guys at night, and conversing with them before games. I feel like that really improved my communication skills, and I’m very happy with the effort I made and how I connected with the players.”
The Panthers will take the field once again for the 2019 season and with hopes of capturing their first MCL title.