WHITING | Familiarity breeds contempt, and in baseball a lack of familiarity with pitchers often breeds groundouts and strikeouts.
Despite the Midwest Collegiate League having only a handful of teams, the Northwest Indiana Oilmen had only seen Southland Vikings starter Brandon White for a lone inning this summer prior to Saturday’s opening game of the best-of-three MCL finals at Oil City Stadium.
White, in just his third start of the summer, halted the previously hot Oilmen and took advantage of a big fourth inning by his Southland teammates, and together they beat the Oilmen 7-2 to take a 1-0 series lead.
“That was just an absolutely gutsy performance by a great kid,” Vikings manager and South Suburban assistant Chris Cunningham said.
“We’ve only had him for the last month, and he’s done real well.”
After scoring 29 runs in a two-game semifinal sweep of the Lexington Snipes, the Oilmen managed just eight hits against White, who struck out eight and walked one in eight sparkling innings, throwing 122 pitches.
The Oilmen ended a streak of six consecutive postseason wins. They went 4-0 last season en route to the championship.
In four years of existence, even as the Great Plains Conference, the Midwest Collegiate League has never had a team that won a playoff series after dropping the series opener.
The Oilmen will try to reverse that trend in Game 2 at 7:10 tonight at Homewood-Flossmoor High School.
Oilmen manager Justin Huisman will move staff ace Jimmy McNamara, the winner of the playoff opener with Lexington Tuesday, to the mound for tonight’s game.
“If we can take them (tonight), I like our chances,” Huisman said. “Game 1 is done, and we’ve just got to worry about Game 2.”
The lone offensive bright spot for the Oilmen Saturday was an RBI single by Jack Czeszewski in the seventh, scoring Ty Hogan.
Hogan also scored on a groundout by Leiff Clarkson in the bottom of the ninth.
Northwest Indiana’s lack of offense did not help the rhythm of starting pitcher Andy Wellwerts.
The Hanover Central grad hadn’t pitched since July 23 and lasted just 3 2/3 innings. He gave up five runs, with the last three being unearned thanks to a dropped fly ball by right fielder Craig Austgen.
Wellwerts took 35 pitches to get through the first inning, allowing a two-out, run-scoring single to Dan Potempa and loading the bases before a groundout stranded all three. The right-hander allowed two singles, a fielder’s choice and a walk before Austgen’s gaffe made the score 3-0 and chased Wellwerts.
Clark grad Micah Rooke had singled earlier in the inning for the Vikings to make the score 2-0. Rooke scored twice in the contest.
Potempa greeted reliever Danny Pobereyko with a two-run single to make the score 5-0. A wild pitch by Pobereyko following a Kenny Mahala error in the eighth allowed another run.
“You kind of hope your defense lifts you up,” Huisman said. “So many things happen in a game that you can’t blame one play, but we did spot them five runs. Five runs was the difference in the game, and those errors cost us five runs.”
Austgen reached base in all three plate appearances after the crucial error, and his double was the game’s lone extra-base hit.
Mt. Carmel grad Jerry Houston, who won a state title with the Caravan less than two months ago, singled in his first two at-bats and played strong at shortstop for Southland.
Fellow Caravan alumnus Chris Sujka was 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI. Potempa was 3-for-5 with three RBIs.
“Jerry is one of those baseball kids,” Cunningham said. “He does everything right, and he handles his business like he’s done it a million times.”