It’s the time of year when back-to-school sales litter the aisles at retailers and overprotective parents try to buy every comfort of home for their college-bound students.
For the summering college baseball players on the Northwest Indiana Oilmen, there’s a checklist that doesn’t involve mini fridges, bean bag chairs or futons.
It’s time for a championship run.
“I know when I played, you get to this point (of the year), and you’re always ready to have a little break before you go back to school because you have fall ball and some long days where you’re pretty tired,” said Oilmen manager Justin Huisman, a veteran of three college seasons and eight minor league campaigns as a player.
“But we also have unfinished business. We want to win a championship and leave the summer on a high note.”
The best-of-three Midwest Collegiate League semifinals begin at 7:10 tonight at Oil City Stadium with the second-seeded and defending league champion Oilmen (27-15) hosting the 2013 expansion team Lexington Snipes (20-13).
With most of the roster consisting of players who weren’t in Whiting for last season’s run, the title of defending champion doesn’t weigh on the Oilmen, who lost their last two regular-season games to fall out of contention for the top seed.
“We did win last summer,” Huisman said. “But there are a lot of new faces and new teams, so I think everyone is just out trying to be the best this summer.”
However, the lessons of last summer remain pertinent.
“It’s about who doesn’t do anything to cost themselves the game and who does the things to win the game,” Huisman said. “Last year we did a good job of not costing ourselves a chance to win ballgames and then having opportunities to win.”
Pitching and defense will no doubt make or break a champion. Luckily for the Oilmen, pitching has been a forte all summer.
The rotation for the series is contingent on the first game, but Lake Central grad Jimmy McNamara (4-0, 1.18 ERA) will get the nod as the starter for tonight’s opener.
“Our starters have done a great job, and our staff as a whole had a great summer,” Huisman said. “We will rely on them to set the tone.
“(McNamara has) been outstanding. He’s just a guy that goes out and challenges hitters and works at a good pace.”
Leading hitters for the Oilmen include Butler’s Nick Bartolone (.361, 37 RBI), Notre Dame’s Kenny Mahala (Andrean) and Western Kentucky’s Leiff Clarkson (.333, 25 RBI, 13 SB).
“If there’s an area we’ve come up short in, it’s consistency at the plate,” Huisman said. “Guys just started hitting the ball really well, and we have the talent.”
The Oilmen went 3-4 this season against Lexington.
“With these top four teams, anything can happen, and anybody can beat anybody,” Huisman said. “We’ve been pretty even. This should be a good, evenly matched series.”