08/12/2021 8:56 PM -
Crestwood, Ill. – August 12, 2021 – 2021 proved to be a year of many firsts for the Crestwood Panthers.
The team not only made the MCL Postseason for the first time, but also won a playoff game, and sat, at one point, just 90 feet from an MCL Championship appearance.
That said, their quest to make further history was short-lived, as Crestwood fell 11-5 to the Joliet Generals on Thursday afternoon, marking the end of the Panthers’ most memorable season to date.
Crestwood’s resilient attitude was on display throughout the contest, as evidenced by the game’s five total lead changes. With their backs against the wall, the Panthers gave it all they had to extend their season another day.
The action began in the second inning, as Maurey Garrett (Calumet College / Homewood, Ill.) recorded an RBI groundout following a clutch Andrew Tenison (Benedictine University / Orland Park, Ill.) sacrifice bunt. Then, in the fifth, with Crestwood trailing by two runs, Hayden Matulich (Purdue University Northwest / San Jose, Calif.) launched a two-out, two-RBI double to right field, tying the game at three. In the very next at-bat, Ronald Applewhite (Culver-Stockton College / Chicago, Ill.) reached base via an error, plating Gannon Andrews (Purdue University Northwest / Portage, Mich.) and giving the Panthers their first lead of the game.
Following the comeback, however, Joliet scored six unanswered runs over three innings, forcing Crestwood to trail by five runs with just six outs to go. Fortunately, the Panthers continued in their pursuit of a win, as pinch hitter Gabe Halaby (University of Chicago / Monument, Colo.) lined a two-out, two-strike RBI single to right field, cutting the deficit to four. In the bottom half of the eighth, though, Joliet added two more runs, and firmly put the game out of reach.
“They had a great game plan, and they executed,” said manager Isaac Valdez. “That said, we still fought, and that’s been a signature of this team during the summer. From day one, they never quit. It didn’t matter how many runs they were down, they never quit. And, that’s a testament to who these guys are as people.”
On the mound, Michael Kokoszka (Eastern Michigan / Westmont, Ill.) turned in a quality performance, holding the Generals to three runs over four innings. After Kokoszka, Crestwood turned to four different pitchers, all of whom did their best to limit a sizzling Joliet lineup.
“You just have to tip your cap,” Valdez said. “They did everything well, and hit especially well with runners on base. We did everything we could, but the better team won today.”
Despite their elimination, 2021 is officially the Panthers’ greatest season since joining the MCL in 2017. The team went from 6-29-1 under Valdez in 2018, to now, a perennial playoff threat across the league. Valdez was quite proud of his team’s accomplishments, and appreciated what they put together in the face of constant adversity.
“It was a great year for us,” Valdez said. “Each and every one of these players deserves all this success. They earned respect from other teams across the league, and made so much history here this season. I hope to get them back next summer.”
Congratulations to the Crestwood Panthers on a historic season, and thank you for following all the action throughout the year!