It’s not as simple as an on/off switch and not as animalistic as a natural fight-or-flight instinct.
Somewhere between those beneath-the-surface explanations lies the reason for the Northwest Indiana Oilmen’s recently renewed playoff intensity.
After going 6-4 in their final 10 games of the regular season, the Oilmen rolled through the first round of the playoffs with 29 runs on 35 hits in a two-game sweep of their best-of-three series with Lexington.
“The adrenaline of the postseason got guys pretty focused and ready to play,” Oilmen manager Justin Huisman said Thursday.
“Any time you’re in a postseason, at any level, it’s exciting. It makes it easier to find that adrenaline rush to focus and get ready to play. Any sport you play, you’re always excited to play in the postseason.”
A decisive third game, which seemed to be a possibility when the Oilmen were down 7-3 through four innings Wednesday night in Bloomington, Ill., was not necessary Thursday, so the team took a day off.
The Midwest Collegiate League finals start at 7:10 tonight in Oil City Stadium, a best-of-three series between the second-seeded Oilmen and the fourth-seeded Southland Vikings, who swept top seed DuPage County.
“We were kind of laid back, but then we kicked it into another gear and said, ‘We’re here; let’s go win this thing,’” said pitcher Jimmy McNamara, the winner of the first playoff game and the scheduled starter for a potential third game of the championship series.
The Oilmen won the league’s inaugural crown last summer and are 6-0 in the playoffs as a franchise. Only a handful of players from last year are returners.
“Everybody’s really excited, and anything short of coming out on top is going to be disappointing to us,” Huisman said. “Hopefully our pitchers can continue on the roll that they’re on.”
Hanover Central grad Andy Wellwerts, who would have started Game 3 with Lexington, will get the ball for the series opener tonight.
Huisman said the well-rested Wellwerts is “super excited” to be starting in the league finals.
When Oilmen leadoff hitter Anthony Bova went back home to Ohio for previous obligations, Huisman moved Jack Czeszewski to the leadoff spot, and on Wednesday he had five of the franchise-record 23 hits in the 17-9 series-clinching win over Lexington. He moved Andrean grad Kenny Mahala to the third spot to replace Czeszewski, and Mahala had three runs in the 12-3 series-opening win.
“This is really important,” McNamara said. “I became friends with a lot of these guys on my team, and it’s important that we try to end the summer on a high note.”
Many players on both sides are stoked for this series because there are many friendships between the dugouts.
Northwest Indiana players on the Vikings include catcher Tyler Hanson (River Forest), Micah Rooke (Clark), John Livingston (Highland), Steve Letz (Lake Central) and Tony Balcazar (Bishop Noll).
Mount Carmel grads Jerry Houston, Jeff Boehm and Chris Sujka, Homewood-Flossmoor grads Stanten Jones, Aaron Hauge and Evan Nietfeldt, along with Kevin Hallberg (T.F. South) and Robby Nunn (Marian Catholic) contribute for the Vikings as well.
The Vikings (22-15) won the season series with the Oilmen (29-16) this summer 4-3.
“It’ll be a fun series and a little bit personal but in a good way,” Huisman said. “Whatever pitching staff can contain the other offense the most is probably going to win the series.”