The Milwaukee Panthers won four of their five games this past week, spanning from Tuesday to Sunday, with Thursday being the travel day. They opened with a huge blowout win over Edgewood College and a nail-biter over Bradley at Henry Aaron Field, then headed to Valparaiso to take on the Crusaders in Horizon League action. They won two out of three, the only loss coming in the series opener in which the offense could not muster anything.
Everything went right for the home squad in the victory over the Eagles.
The Panthers jumped all over Edgewood early and often, scoring 16 runs in the first three innings, with 10 coming in the second. After Milwaukee starter Austin Schulfer set the Eagles down 1-2-3 in the top of the first, his run support got going. After right fielder Derek Peake was hit by a pitch then stole second, left fielder Sam Koenig and catcher Daulton Varsho hit back-to-back home runs to give the Panthers a 3-0 lead.
The second inning proved to be the big show, as six of Milwaukee’s nine batters came up twice.
Third baseman Eric Solberg hit a one-out double. After the second and third HBP of the game for Eagles’ starter Erick Wendt and a balk, Edgewood pulled him. Koenig then got his third RBI of the game on a single. Varsho subsequently walked to score another run, and then designated hitter Mike Porcaro singled in two runs. First baseman Nick Unes later hit a single for another run and shortstop Ryan McShane and Solberg both walked, which scored two more. Center fielder Luke Meeteer, following another Eagles’ pitching change, hit a lineout that scored Unes, and Peake then singled in another run. Koenig then got his fourth RBI on a double, this being the final run of the massive flurry that extended the lead to 13.
The Panthers were not done.
After Porcaro and second baseman Tell Taylor reached on an error and a walk, respectively, Unes hit a three-run shot for a 16-0 lead.
Milwaukee scored in the next four innings, including four in the seventh.
Koenig hit a solo homer for yet another RBI in the fourth. In the fifth, Solberg hit a solo blast of his own. The Panthers manufactured their run in the sixth as Taylor doubled then advanced to third on a wild pitch. Unes hit a groundout that scored him.
Some of the reserves got in on the fun in the seventh.
Backup right fielder Zach Taylor hit an RBI double to push the lead to 20. Later in the frame, pinch hitting for Porcaro, outfielder Sam Hammer doubled in two more runs. Unes knocked in the final run for Milwaukee on an RBI single.
Edgewood got two runs in the bottom of the ninth, bringing the final margin of victory to 21 in a 23-2 shellacking.
The next day’s game was much closer against Bradley, ranked No. 21 in the RPI.
As has been the story for many games lately, Milwaukee got started early. Starter Mike Schneider set the Braves down in order, and the Panthers took advantage. Peake was hit by a pitch, and catcher Mitch Ghelfi doubled him in for the early Milwaukee lead.
Bradley got a run in the top of the second on a throwing error by Schneider on a pickoff attempt. Another error by second baseman Tell Taylor allowed the beneficiary, Bradley catcher Drew Carlile, to get to second.
However, the Panthers kept the offense going in the second.
Third baseman Tyler Hermann hit a one-out double. Then, after a groundout by McShane, Meeteer homered to retake the lead.
Facing a 3-1 deficit heading into the third, the Braves struck again. Second baseman Chris Godinez drew a one-out walk and then advanced to second on a Unes error in a pickoff attempt. He then got to third on a wild pitch, and then a groundout scored him to cut the deficit to one.
Milwaukee got its final two runs of regulation in the bottom of the inning.
After a fly-out and lineout sandwiched three hits to load the bases, Hermann hit a single to right-center that scored two runs to give the Panthers a 5-2 lead.
It took until the sixth for Bradley to respond, but they used the late innings to their advantage.
Braves’ shortstop Tyler Leffler was hit by a pitch from Milwaukee reliever Adam Reuss, and designated hitter Elliot Ashbeck singled. Both advanced on a passed ball and Leffler scored on a sacrifice fly to cut into the lead.
Bradley would go on to tie the game in the eighth and ninth. Carlile hit a single following an earlier double to bring the gap to one, and in the next inning, Leffler tied the game on another RBI single.
It took three extra-innings, but the Panthers came up with the late-game heroics.
Ghelfi doubled down the left-field line and advanced to third on a wild pitch that was the fourth ball on a walk to Tell Taylor. Unes then hit the game-winning sac fly to score Ghelfi.
“We found a way to win against a quality opponent,” UWM head coach Scott Doffek said. “It was a good team win. Early on our offense was really good and then they brought in some arms and did a good job. Our bullpen did a good job and we had a chance to close it out in the ninth, but they punched a single through with two outs and two strikes. We gave the ball to a couple of guys we are going to need down the stretch and they did a great job.”
Milwaukee hit the road, but it looked as if they forgot to bring the bats for Friday’s game.
The Panthers did not score any runs in the game and only mustered three hits. However, starter Brian Keller pitched very well in the first seven innings, only allowing one run.
That run came in the first inning, as Valparaiso shortstop Spencer Mahoney hit a leadoff solo home run.
However, Keller showed signs of fatigue in the eighth, with the total lack of run support being a primary reason. Backup Crusaders’ catcher Ray Bartolomucci singled to right-center with one out, then designated hitter Dustin Beasley was hit by a pitch. Both runners then advanced on a wild pitch. Left fielder Josh Clark cashed them in on a double to push the lead to three.
Reliever Alex McIntosh then came in to pitch, but it didn’t make a difference.
He walked third baseman Shea Molitor, then Mahoney picked up another RBI on a single that scored Clark. Right fielder Nolan Lodden later came up with a 2-RBI single that pushed the lead to 6-0, which ended up being the final score.
Doffek took an optimistic viewpoint, but was obviously not happy with the lack of run production.
“Brian did a good job of minimizing their offense early on and gave us a great chance to win a ballgame,” he said. “(Valparaiso starter Dalton) Lundeen really threw the ball well and we couldn’t seem to get anything going. We have been swinging the bats really well lately, so to get shutout is disappointing. But, tomorrow is a new day.”
The metal then got going for the weekend games.
Milwaukee starter Joe Pavlovich didn’t allow a run until the fifth inning. However, the Panthers struck before that.
In the top of the second, Ghelfi hit a solo shot to take an early 1-0 lead. That gap widened to four in the top of the fifth on three consecutive RBI hits. Varsho walked, then Unes doubled him in. McShane subsequently hit another double to score Unes. Finally, Meeteer singled to score McShane. Crusaders reliever Trevor Haas then came in for starter Mario Losi. He settled the roar down, and his team finally responded.
Clark reached on a fielding error by Ghelfi, and then Bartolomucci singled up the middle. Center fielder Mark Johnson hit a sac fly to send Clark to third, and then the latter scored on an error on the next at-bat.
The Panthers extended their lead to seven on four runs in the final two innings. Those proved to be more crucial than one would have expected, as Valparaiso made one final spurt in the ninth inning.
Unes got a sac fly in the seventh to up the lead to 5-1. In the eighth, Peake hit an RBI single to score McShane, then Koenig hit a two-run home run to open the seven-run lead.
Milwaukee reliever Jake Tuttle struggled to open the frame, as he hit Bartolomucci and advanced him to second on a wild pitch. Second baseman Jeff Edwards eventually singled him in. Later, Daniel Delaney hit a two-RBI hit to bring the Crusaders within four. Beasley then hit a groundout to score Lodden, and the lead was down to three. Doffek then brought in reliever Gunnar Eastman, who got the final out to save the 8-5 victory.
Doffek spoke highly of reliever Cody Peterson, who shut down Valparaiso in the eighth in order to allow the Panthers to tack on the runs needed to win.
“Peterson came into a tight spot in the eighth and did a phenomenal job when we needed it,” he said. “That gave our offense a chance to tack on in the ninth inning, which turned out to be the difference.”
Once again, Milwaukee struck early in the series finale Sunday, only this time in a much bigger way. The Panthers scored five runs in the first three innings and held a 5-1 lead after those frames.
In the top of the first, Meeteer and Peake both singled to lead off the inning. Later in the stanza, Ghelfi doubled both of them in, though he was called out trying to stretch it into a triple.
Milwaukee doubled its lead in the second. Unes hit a one-out single and Hermann subsequently reached on a fielding error by Valparaiso starter Ryan Fritze. Two batters later, Meeteer got the first of two consecutive RBI hits by him and Peake. However, the Crusaders would respond in the bottom of the inning.
Beasley doubled and Clark singled to have two runners in scoring position with no outs. After Bartolomucci struck out, third baseman Chad Jacob hit into a fielder’s choice that scored Beasley to close the gap to three.
The Panthers pushed their lead back to four in the third on an RBI single by Unes. Porcaro doubled after Ghelfi grounded out. Varsho struck out, then Unes got his ribbie.
Valparaiso answered in the fourth on Jacob’s second RBI, this time a single that scored Clark.
After a scoreless fifth from both teams, Reuss came in to pitch for starter Justin Langley. The Crusaders would go on to cut into the lead, as Reuss had some control issues. He hit one batter and threw two wild pitches, one scoring the run to make the score 5-3.
Milwaukee got an insurance run in the seventh. Peake walked, then Koenig grounded out, which advanced Peake to second. After Ghelfi walked following that sequence, Valparaiso pulled Fritze for reliever Bryce Yoder. His first batter, Porcaro, hit a single to score Peake.
The Crusaders narrowed the gap to one following the seventh inning stretch. Clark reached on a fielding error by McShane, then, after Reuss fanned two hitters, center fielder Giovanni Garbella hit a two-run homer.
Neither team did any damage in the eighth, but the Panthers got some key cushion in the ninth when Varsho hit a two-run dinger of his own. Valparaiso would score one run on a Mahoney hit, leaving the final score at 8-6 and a series win.
“We came out swinging the bats early and put up some runs,” said Doffek. “It was not an easy day to pitch. Langley got into some trouble, but made some huge pitches to keep Valpo in check. I thought their pitcher did a great job of settling down and pitching well from the third inning on. We tacked on a couple late with Varsho’s home run and the bullpen did the rest. It’s always good to go on the road and win a league series.”
Milwaukee plays eight of its last nine games at home, with their only road tilt coming this Wednesday against Chicago State in Joliet, IL. The home games consist of, chronologically, MSOE, a three game set vs. Wright State, Northern Illinois, and a final three game series vs. Oakland, the second of that series at Miller Park. The Panthers are now 28-16, 12-11 in Horizon League play.