07/18/2018 11:50 PM -
Joliet, Ill. – July 18, 2018 – The Panthers took care of business at Wayne L. King Jr. Field as they took down the Joliet Generals 4-2.
The performances on the mound by both teams was the story of today’s game, but the Panthers’ sixth inning offensive outburst proved to be the difference in a tight pitcher’s duel.
Panthers manager Isaac Valdez entrusted all-star Jackson Shepherd (Mesa CC/Channahon, Ill.) to make his first start of the season on the mound against a red-hot Joliet lineup. This decision paid off in spades as Shepherd once again turned in a top-notch performance. He pitched eight innings and allowed just two runs (one earned), scattering six hits and one walk while striking out six Generals batters in a winning effort.
“Jackson really showed us why he’s an all-star caliber pitcher,” Panthers manager Isaac Valdez said. “He kept his pitch count to just 12 per inning which allowed him to last as long as he did. He didn’t have his best stuff, his changeup wasn’t as consistent as it normally is, but that speaks to how much of a competitor Jackson is. He was still able to shut down possibly the best hitting team in the MCL.”
There was very little offense to speak of from either team, as both the Panthers and Generals scored their runs in one half-inning. Joliet opened the scoring in the bottom of the fourth after loading the bases with one out. Harrison Hayes opened the scoring for the Generals on a sacrifice fly while Ranko Stevanovic scampered home on a Brian Vance (Saint Joseph’s (Pa.)/Chicago, Ill.) throwing error just one batter later. Those would be the only two runs the Generals would score.
The Panthers would respond in the top of the sixth as with one out, debutant Brandon Simon (Arkansas-Pine Bluff/Chicago, Ill.) singled home Evan Bell (Memphis/Oak Park, Ill.), cutting the Generals lead in half. Later that same inning, with two outs, Michael Ruffolo (Rockhurst/Norridge, Ill.) drew a full-count walk which prompted the Generals to pull their starting pitcher, Jordan Baker, from the game through just 5 2/3 innings in favor of their all-star reliever in Alex Herbst.
Despite Joliet’s attempt to lock down the inning, Vance would atone for his fielding mistake and hit a two-run single to put the Panthers in front 3-2.
“I really just wanted to put that ball in play,” Vance said. “Coach [Valdez] always harps on us for always leaving the bases loaded, so I just didn’t want to be the guy to do that again today, so I just tried to get off a good swing and fortunately that ball found a hole.”
Maurey Garret (Heartland CC/Flossmoor, Ill.) would follow up with an RBI single of his own as the next batter to double the Panthers advantage, making the score 4-2. That two-run lead would stand up for the Panthers, as that was all Shepherd would need to secure the victory.
“I just wanted to keep things simple today and pound the strike zone,” Shepherd said. “I felt that all I needed to do was trust my stuff, and fortunately I was able to pitch well today and help the team win the ballgame.”
With Shepherd’s pitch count at 103 heading into the ninth inning, Valdez turned to Alex Dobrzeniecki (Olivet Nazarene/Lowell, Ind.) to close out the ballgame for his second appearance this season. After taking the loss against the Generals the last time these two teams matched up, Dobrzeniecki turned in a much better performance this time around. Despite hitting the first batter he faced, he looked comfortable on the mound, striking out two batters on the way to a shutdown inning and his first save of the season.
“Even though he got hit around a bit last time out, I really like Alex’s stuff,” Valdez said. “He has quite a bit of velocity and a nice breaking ball. Because there’s a good difference between the two speeds, he can keep hitters off-balance, and that’s what will cause a batter to swing and miss. He did a great job of that today.”
The Panthers are off tomorrow, but will return to Howie Minas Field to take on the Southland Vikings in a doubleheader starting at 5:00 p.m. on Friday. You can catch the action from both games on the Crestwood Panthers Broadcasting Network as Ryan Zimmerman will have the play-by-play call.