An Unlikely Lineup Leaves Its Mark, Minutemen Hammer Vikings

By: Ryan Zimmerman

Hammond, Ind. – The penultimate game in MCL Minutemen (12-21) provided a bunch of memorable moments on Thursday at Dowling Park. They provided their best offensive output of the entire season, running away with an 18-2 blowout victory over the Southland Vikings in four innings.

“Our guys are still fired up to play every day,” manager Jack Murphy said. “Everyone that’s still here continues to take this very seriously, and it shows. With so few games left, we’re all emptying the tank and leaving everything on the field; the final score is reflective of how hard these guys have worked all summer long.”

Just like Tuesday’s tilt with the Crestwood Panthers, the Minutemen relied upon three pitchers to help round out the batting order. Cade Turner (Illinois-Springfield/Frankfort, Ill.) hit for himself as the starting pitcher while Nic Vitiritti (Carthage College/Lansing, Ill.) manned the hot corner and Norman Standish (South Suburban College/Highland, Ind.) patrolled second base.

Despite the unconventional arrangement, each player provided major offensive contributions.

“The pitchers in the lineup were having so much fun,” Murphy said. “You never know what can happen when they swing the bat because they’ve got nothing to lose. They’re just having a good time doing something they don’t normally do. Luckily, they must have heard everything I told the hitters this year and had some excellent at-bats.”

From the get-go, the Minutemen got locked in at the plate. Just three pitches into the contest, Ryan Missal (Western Michigan/Lowell, Ind.) saw a fastball he liked and crushed it over the right-field fence. The home run marks his fourth of the season, third against the Vikings, and second off pitcher Ryan Manikowski.

“I just tried to keep things simple in the batter’s box today,” Missal said. “The goal was to barrel up the baseball and find gaps, and fortunately, that worked out. The home run got out on a line and felt really good.”

The Vikings responded in the bottom half of the first, but the Minutemen pulled right back in front in the second inning and created ample breathing room between them and their MCL foe. Walks to newcomer Caden Bell (Purdue Northwest/Hammond, Ind.) and Standish alongside a base hit from Turner loaded the bases with one out. Mike Koszewski (Cincinnati/Oak Brook, Ill.) immediately capitalized, legging out an infield single to put his team in front once more. A balk plated the team’s third run before Missal notched another two runs batted in, this time on a single to right field.  

Then, the unthinkable happened. As runners stood on first and second, Brad Miller (Illinois-Springfield/Oak Forest, Ill.) roped a line drive down the right-field line that evaded the diving Southland outfielder. The ball rattled around in the corner and allowed him enough time to round the bases for an inside-the-park home run, the team’s second, both at Dowling Park. The home run, his fifth, also ties Miller with Patrick Doran (North Carolina Central/Chicago, Ill.) atop the team leaderboard.

“When I made contact, I was wondering why the right fielder was hugging the line on me,” Miller said afterward. “I thought he was going to catch it, thankfully he didn’t, and I turned on the burners. I’ve never run so fast in my life.”

By the time the Minutemen finished hitting, they led comfortably 8-1. The Vikings countered once again in the bottom half of the frame, tallying an unearned run. However, the Minutemen proved their opposition’s offensive efforts meaningless as they notched another pair in the top of the third. Vitiritti kickstarted the mini-rally on his second free pass in as many games and advanced to third on a throwing error following a Standish groundball.

Just like in the previous inning, the Minutemen pulled off the improbable as the two pitchers perfectly executed a complex baserunning maneuver. Standish took a large secondary lead off first base to draw the Vikings defense into a rundown, permitting Vitiritti to sneak in a run on a delayed steal of home.

Standish, who moved up to second himself, came in after a Koszewski double, giving the Minutemen double-digit runs. Through three turns at-bat, they held a 10-2 advantage.

Not satisfied by an eight-run cushion, the Minutemen went right back to work in the top of the fourth. Miller got them going by walking and scored straightaway; a Ryan Nelson (Eastern Kentucky/Aurora, Ill.) single got him to third while a throwing error gifted him the final 90 feet. Turner then struck an infield base hit to shortstop, setting Vitiritti up to pick up his first-ever knock, a run-scoring line-drive single. A free pass to Koszewski filled the bases for Missal, allowing him to record his fourth and fifth RBI’s of the game, singling to left-center field to do so.

“I don’t know what it is, whenever I face the Vikings I just show up,” Missal said of his output. “I had a good mental approach knowing I had those two home runs and starting off today knowing I saw their pitcher well last time. As long as I keep my focus at the plate, good things come.”

The Minutemen maintained a 14-2 edge, but the offense remained far from finished. Ryan McCoy (Wabash Valley College/Frankfort, Ill.) slammed a ground-rule double, driving in his 20th run in the process.  Miller manufactured another base on balls, reloading the bags for Nelson. He stroked a double to the left-field wall, chasing home another three scores.

Though he certainly appreciated all the run support, Turner proved he needed none of it. He finished off a complete game in the bottom of the fourth, securing his first win. Granting the one earned run, only three Vikings secured hits against him, also striking out six in the shortest complete game in Midwest Collegiate League history.

“It was good to see Cade finish off on a high note,” Murphy said. “With a big lead, the goal becomes to throw strikes and get the hitters into the dugout again as soon as possible, and that’s exactly what he did. He pitched to contact and got the quick outs we needed while mixing in some nice punch outs as well.”

Coming off the big blowout, the Minutemen head to Oil City Stadium in Whiting, Ind. on Friday at 7:10 p.m. to oppose the Northwest Indiana Oilmen in what will likely be the franchise’s final game. Nevertheless, Murphy intends to manage the same way he has all summer long.

“We’re absolutely looking to win,” Murphy said. “It doesn’t matter who we run out there, who we’re playing, or how many pitchers are in the starting lineup. We will go right after these guys [the Oilmen] and finish strong.”

The game will be broadcast on the Northwest Indiana Oilmen Broadcast Network via Facebook Live as Brandon Vickrey and Ryan Zimmerman have the call.  

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