06/25/2018 1:30 AM -
Joliet, Ill. – June 24, 2018 – It took an extra frame to get the job done, but the Panthers pulled off a clutch 10-9 victory over the Joliet Generals.
The team’s mental toughness was on full display as they fought through every challenge the Generals presented to them over the course of a back-and-forth 10 inning encounter.
“These guys are a resilient bunch,” Panthers assistant coach Rich Ruffolo said. “We could have folded a couple different times, but we never gave in and never gave up. I was always confident we would win today just by the way we kept fighting and playing hard.”
The Panthers drew first blood in the top of the second inning when John Plattner (Lincoln Land CC/Chatham, Ill.) and Brian Vance (Saint Joseph’s (Pa.)/Chicago, Ill.) combined for the game’s first run, but the lead was short-lived as the Generals tied the game in the next half inning.
The Panther lead was restored in the third inning as they used the basepaths to their advantage to push across two runs. Reggie Brock (Chicago State/Chicago, Ill.) executed a daring steal of home plate and Evan Bell (Memphis/Oak Park, Ill.) scored from second on an infield single. However, the Generals would roar back an inning later, pushing across three runs off starter Andrew Stone (Undecided/Chicago Heights, Ill.), benefitting from two Panther errors.
Stone would work into the fifth inning, but with two outs and a runner on first base, he was taken out in favor of Stephen Gilbertsen (Illinois State/Chesterton, Ind.), who would go the rest of the way for the Panthers. Gilbertsen recorded the final out of the inning on just one pitch, setting the tone for a masterful outing.
“Stephen was commanding the strike zone all game long,” Ruffolo said. “He was fantastic on the mound today and we felt he gave us the best chance to win the game.”
The Panthers broke through in the sixth inning off reliever Jacob Diaz. A collection of wild pitches, passed balls, walks, and timely hits led the Panthers to a five-run outburst, handing the Panthers an 8-4 lead.
The score remained the same until the bottom of the ninth inning as the Generals mounted a comeback to tie the ballgame. The Generals cut the lead to three runs when a Ben Jung single scored Jeremiah Lebron who led off by driving a double to the left-field wall. The Generals would load the bases with two outs, and down to their final at-bat, Joe Scaffidi ripped a low line drive to center field which eluded the outstretched glove of Colton Rydlewski (Albion College/Schererville, Ind.), tying the game 8-8.
Despite surrendering their lead, the Panthers maintained their focus and fought to take the lead right back. They opened the 10th inning by loading the bases following two walks and a hit-by-pitch to their first three batters. The Panthers were primed to respond with a big inning of their own, but a Vance 5-2-3 double play seemed to kill all their momentum.
Just when it looked like the Panthers would let a golden opportunity slip through their fingertips, Rydlewski stepped up to redeem his fielding mistake the inning prior by lining a triple down the right-field line, scoring two runs and putting the Panthers back on top 10-8.
Rydlewski would go 2-5 driving in four runs on the day.
“I just wanted to pick myself and the team back up after the ninth inning,” Rydlewski said. “They had been playing great defense the whole game, and then I made that play, so I just wanted to go up to bat and do something productive. Luckily, I saw a pitch I liked right away and redeemed myself.”
After reclaiming their lead, the Panthers still were not out of the woods. Sending Gilbertsen back to the rubber, they looked to finish things off against a Generals offense ready to strike back. Two walks and an error combined to bring the Generals back within one run with one out, and a deep fly ball to right field a batter later would put the tying and winning runs in scoring position.
With the Generals threatening to steal the win from the Panthers grasp, Gilbertsen dug deep and struck out Bryce Cross on a beautiful 2-2 curveball to seal the win for the Panthers.
In his winning effort, Gilbertsen went 5 1/3 innings in relief allowing five runs (two earned) on six hits and four walks while racking up six strikeouts.
“All my life I’ve had to come in and deal with sticky situations,” Gilbertsen said. “It feels like a regular thing to me now, I don’t feel pressure with it. In the end, it all came down to locating my pitches and using my breaking pitches efficiently.”
The Panthers have a day off tomorrow but will take the field again on Tuesday when they take on the DuPage County Hounds at 7:00 p.m. at Howie Minas Field. Ryan Zimmerman will have the call on the Crestwood Panthers Broadcasting Network.