WHITING | As far as rivalries go in the Midwest Collegiate League, it doesn't get much bigger than the Northwest Indiana Oilmen and Southland Vikings.
Oil City Stadium in Whiting and Homewood-Flossmoor High School, their home fields, are only 20 miles apart.
The Vikings defeated the Oilmen 6-4 on Tuesday, giving Southland the 4-3 edge in the regular season series.
"I think this is definitely our biggest rivalry," said Oilmen starting pitcher Jimmy McNamara, who faced the Vikings three times this season. "They're really talented. We've had a couple close games. I would definitely think that's the rivalry we have in this league."
McNamara shut down the Vikings in his first two outings against them, allowing just one earned run in 12 innings with nine strikeouts, both no-decisions.
On Tuesday, he allowed eight hits and three earned runs -- both season highs -- in six innings.
"I guess I couldn't surprise them, really," McNamara said. "I threw more fastballs (Tuesday). They hit them pretty hard. I've faced these guys now nine, 10 times. They just kind of know (me) and get a better feel."
Vikings manager Chris Cunningham also recognizes the rivalry.
A Homewood-Flossmoor grad, Cunningham grew up looking up to Oilmen manager Justin Huisman, who prepped at Thornwood and later was a relief pitcher for the Kansas City Royals for a short time in 2004.
"It's a real big rivalry, especially the geographic location with the two of us being so close," Cunningham said. "These guys want to come out and beat them. The boys knew the season series was close, so they really wanted to come out and get this (latest) win."
As of Tuesday, four Vikings' hitters bat more than .300.
Highland grad John Livingston, at .324, is just fourth among those regularly in the lineup. Leadoff hitter Sean Beesley is hitting .356 with a league-leading 22 stolen bases. Jeff Boehm is hitting .365 with 26 RBIs, while Dan Potempa is at .423 this summer.
Southland leads the MCL in almost every hitting statistic.
To say they've been a thorn in the side of the Oilmen this summer would be an understatement.
"They always give us a tough time," Huisman said. "We're playing a lot of close ballgames, more than I'd like to, that's for sure. They do seem to play well against us. It's just a good team in general."