07/04/2020 7:07 PM -
Crestwood, Ill. – July 4, 2020 – Through the first inning on Saturday’s matchup against the Southland Vikings, the Panthers strongly held their own, maintaining a scoreless tie under what looked to be another impressive outing from Eddie Wilkins (University of Illinois-Springfield / Braidwood, Ill.). Unfortunately, however, the Vikings struck for five runs in the second, and added eight more in the game’s final five innings en route to a 13-2 loss.
The primary offensive catalyst for the Vikings proved to be Justin Rios (North Central College / Lemont, Ill.) who single-handedly drove in seven runs and would end up hitting for the cycle. His three-run home run off of Wilkins in the second inning allowed Southland to pull away early on. From that point, Rios would go on to record a bases clearing double in the third, thus essentially putting the game out of reach.
“We just have to tip our cap to the other team,” said manager Isaac Valdez. “They played a great game. On the mound, their first couple of guys really brought it to us; they deserved the victory, and that’s okay. I told the guys early on that we weren’t going to go undefeated. Now, we’ve gotten that out of the way, and we can win the next 45.”
At the plate, the Panthers mustered four hits, three of which came from the top three hitters in the batting order. Returners Reggie Brock (Chicago State / Chicago, Ill.), Ray Hilbrich (Purdue University-Northwest / Schererville, Ind.), and Lawrence Noble (Coppin State / Chicago, Ill.) each recorded one hit apiece, and newcomer Cameron Bufford (Grambling State / South Holland, Ill. ) added a seventh inning triple. As a team, however, Crestwood hit just .153 (4/26) and did not score their first run until the game’s sixth inning. Valdez acknowledged that the significant time off may have affected his team’s offensive output.
“Look, it’s the first day, and these guys haven’t had a lot of opportunities to really work on their craft due to the pandemic,” said Valdez. “I’m not concerned, though. We’ll get it down. I saw flashes throughout practice during the first couple of weeks and I couldn’t be more excited for what’s to come. We’ll tighten everything up and be fine at the end of the day.”
As for the Panthers’ pitching situation, Wilkins and Max Rundberg (Coppin State / Chicago, Ill.) each lasted two innings. Finishing out the game’s final three innings was Alex Simon (Augustana College / Hinsdale, Ill.), who allowed three earned runs and recorded four strikeouts. Valdez pointed to his performance, specifically, as a positive step in his career development moving forward.
“Alex really had his slider working well, and I like that, at times, he took a little something off it,” said Valdez. “So, I was really impressed with his outing; he definitely has a bright future ahead of him.”
The Panthers will be back at it tomorrow afternoon, opposing the Southland Vikings once again at Old Timers Ballpark. The action begins at 2 P.M. on the Panthers’ Broadcast Network, available via Facebook Live.