Oilmen’s shot at back-to-back titles in jeopardy
By Steve T. Gorches 314-3797 or email@example.com August 3, 2013 11:36PM
The NWI 2nd baseman #3 Joe Houlihan goes down grimaces in pain, after he had a pitch hit his knee, during the 1st game of the MCL championship series against the Southland Vikings, on 8/3/13 in Whiting, IND | John Booz~for the Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 5, 2013 7:04AM
WHITING — History is not on the side of the Northwest Indiana Oilmen.
In the four years of the Midwest Collegiate League (it was called the Great Plains League in its first season), the winner of the first game of a best-of-three playoff series has always won.
The Oilmen were the beneficiaries of that stat last season by winning both of their series two games to none on their way to the title in their first year of existence.
But after NWI won its first series of this year’s MCL playoffs 2-0 over Lexington, the Oilmen couldn’t come through with men on base on Saturday night in Game 1 of the MCL championship series in a 7-2 loss to the Southland Vikings.
Hanover Central graduate Andy Wellwerts just didn’t have it on the mound as the Oilmen starting pitcher, giving up five runs on seven hits and four walks.
“The first couple of batters I thought he threw it well, but his breaking ball wasn’t quite there,” Oilmen manager Justin Huisman said.
All seven of Southland’s runs came with two outs. The Vikings started in the first inning when Chris Sujka, who was on the Indiana University squad that reached the College World Series earlier this summer, had a two-out single and scored on a base-hit by Dan Potempa.
The Vikings broke open the game in the fourth when Clark graduate Micah Rooke — playing just a mile from his old stomping grounds on 119th Street — had a two-out, two-run single. That was followed by a walk to Sujka and a fly ball that was dropped by Oilmen right fielder Craig Austgen, a Lowell grad.
“Those two-out runs are so key in baseball,” Southland manager Chris Cunningham said. “We knew (Lake Central grad Jimmy) McNamara was pitching (in Game 2) so we wanted to get a good start.”
Besides the three unearned runs in the fourth inning, an error in the eighth led to two more Southland runs.
“So many things can cost you in a game, but two big errors cost us five runs and that was the difference in the ball game,” Huisman said.
Southland pitcher Brandon White also had to work his way out of plenty of trouble. The Oilmen never had a 1-2-3 inning, but were only able to score once off White in his eight innings of work.
“He didn’t want to come out of his last start of the season,” Cunningham said. “What a gutsy performance — a man effort out there tonight.”
White threw 131 pitches, striking out eight and walking just one.
McNamara and his 1.18 earned run average in the regular season (he gave up three earned runs in a victory over Lexington in the first playoff series) will try to keep the Oilmen alive on Sunday at Southland, which plays its home games at Homewood-Flossmoor High School.