07/18/2019 10:32 PM -
Crestwood, Ill. – July 18, 2019 – After a long-awaited return to the baseball diamond due to a six-day All-Star Break, the Crestwood Panthers organized yet another resilient performance, diminishing an initial eight-run deficit to just two entering the game's ninth inning. In the end, however, the Panthers could not keep up with the sizzling bats of the Southland Vikings, falling 21-11 on Thursday night.
Once again, the Panthers took the game's first lead, as teammates Nick Anderson (Kankakee CC / Highland, Ind.) and Mike Machnic (Kankakee CC / Chicago, Ill.) each drove in one run apiece in the bottom half of the first inning. That advantage, unfortunately, was short-lived, as the Vikings immediately tied the game in the next half inning, before rattling off nine runs across the third and fourth innings combined. The deficit for Crestwood was seemingly insurmountable, but the Panthers continued to display utter resilience, while employing a "never-say-die" attitude.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Crestwood plated three runs, courtesy of a Ray Hilbrich (Purdue University-Northwest / Schererville, Ind.) RBI single, along with Anderson and Machnic RBI walks. Hilbrich struck again in the very next inning, adding two more RBIs to his running total via a single, while Reggie Brock Jr. (Chicago State / Chicago, Ill.) launched an additional RBI double to deep center field. All of a sudden, in the matter of two innings, the Panthers had cut an eight-run deficit into just two. Manager Isaac Valdez said he saw it coming all along.
"I knew that this was going to happen in the third inning," said Valdez. "I didn't think the game was over by any stretch of the imagination. I knew we were going to hit; it was just a matter of improving defensively and throwing more strikes on the mound."
After a tough start on the mound by Noah Mathias (Roosevelt University / La Porte, Ind.), Valdez's mound reinforcement arrived in the form of Ethan Soderna (Ohio Wesleyan University / Chicago, Ill.). In 5.1 innings out of the bullpen, Soderna allowed four runs, while striking out six Vikings hitters. His impressive consistency on the mound, despite the circumstances, legitimately allowed the Panthers to organize their six-run comeback.
"I thought Ethan threw really well tonight," said Valdez. "He absolutely kept us in the ballgame; we got back in it, and he gave us an excellent chance to complete the comeback and win."
Crestwood entered the ninth inning still trailing by two runs, but with two walks issued to begin the inning, the Panthers eventually gave up eight more runs, thus effectively putting the game out of reach for good, and establishing the eye-opening 21-11 final score.
"You know, you hate to see it, and hate to believe it, but you've got to believe the numbers," said Valdez on the ninth inning gone awry. "Certain guys have made the same mistakes, and they're trying to figure it out right now. They've shown flashes, but it just hasn't been on a consistent basis. Our guys just don't have that consistency yet, and that made it tough for us during that inning."
Despite the difficult end result, the Panthers are looking forward to next week's slate of games, in which they'll play seven games, to be exact, in seven days. Valdez also expressed optimism about the stretch as a whole, but a bit of caution in regards to the team's Monday evening game against the Joliet Generals.
"I'm a little worried of how Monday's going to look, just because that'll mark our second game in ten days at that point," said Valdez. "But I think day two and day three should be fine. We've just had too much rest, and guys need to get back into the swing of things. So I hope that these guys take it among themselves to get some swings in, and for pitchers, getting a bullpen in."
The Panthers will be off through Monday, as a severe heat wave that plans to enrapture the Chicagoland area has already cancelled games scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. Thus, Crestwood will resume action on Monday at Wayne L. King Field in Joliet to take on the Joliet Generals. Coverage begins at 5 p.m. on the Generals Broadcast Network, available via Facebook Live.