The Milwaukee Panthers lost two out of three games in a weekend series against the Flames of Illinois-Chicago. The first was a sloppy game filled with errors that ended in an 11-2 defeat. Saturday’s game was postponed until Sunday, which caused the Panthers to play their second doubleheader against UIC in two weeks. Milwaukee split the twinbill, the first game being a 7-2 win and the second a 3-2 heartbreaker.
The Flames and Panthers played even baseball until late in game one.
UIC struck first in the bottom of the first on a two out mini-rally. Junior starter Brian Keller set the first two hitters down, but then walked Flames’ center fielder Tyler Detmer. After that, two singles by left fielder Jeff Boehm and third baseman Mickey McDonald loaded the bases, and then Milwaukee second baseman Mitch Ghelfi committed an error that allowed Detmer to score on the next at-bat. The Flames led 1-0 after the first, but the Panthers quickly responded.
Third baseman Tyler Hermann walked, then first baseman Nick Unes grounded out to first, advancing him. Catcher Daulton Varsho subsequently hit another groundout that got Hermann to third. After that, designated hitter Mike Porcaro hit a single to right to tie the game.
After a scoreless bottom of the inning that featured the second Milwaukee error, the Panthers took the lead. Center fielder Luke Meeteer hit a ground-rule double, and right fielder Derek Peake bunted to advance him. Milwaukee picked up its third sacrifice groundout of the game when left fielder Sam Koenig grounded to short to score Meeteer and give the Panthers a 2-1 lead.
That would be the last time Milwaukee scored, but UIC was just getting started.
In the bottom of the fifth, designated hitter Zenon Kolakowski hit a single to left, and Detmer got another hit to left two at-bats later to score him. Then, in the sixth, McDonald got to first on a Varsho error, and then stole second. First baseman Alex Lee doubled him in following a flyout. After a sacrifice bunt to advance Lee to third, catcher Rob Calabrese singled him in to take a two-run lead into the seventh.
The Flames poured it on from there.
Shortstop Cody Bohanek led off the home half of the seventh with a single. Following a groundout, Boehm hit a two-run home run to right. Then, McDonald singled to right and then stole second for the second time in the game. Right fielder Conor Philbin hit a single and then advanced to second on a bad throw that scored McDonald. After Lee grounded out to advance Philbin, second baseman David Cronin reached second on a single and error by Panthers’ shortstop Ryan McShane, this sequence scoring Philbin. UIC led 8-2 after the seventh.
The eighth would bring more fortunes for the Flames.
After two walks and a single, McDonald reached on another Milwaukee error, which scored substitute DH Carl Sugihara. Philbin then hit a sacrifice fly that would score Detmer. Finally, Lee singled to score Boehm, giving UIC a nine-run lead that would hold until the end.
“I thought for the first six innings, Brian Keller threw the ball really, really well,” Panthers’ head coach Scott Doffek said. “We did not help him too much and put ourselves in some stressful situations. But still, we had a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning and let the sixth and seventh get away from us.”
A sterling pitching performance from starter Joe Pavlovich allowed Milwaukee to get a win in the first tilt of the double feature.
The offense certainly helped out too, and immediately. In the top of the first, Meeteer was hit by a pitch, and after a flyout and groundout, the latter of which got Meeteer to second, Varsho and Porcaro hit two consecutive doubles to put up two runs. Second baseman Tell Taylor followed those up with a single that scored Porcaro. The Panthers came out of the first with a 3-0 lead.
UIC would answer in the second. Boehm led off the inning with a double, and McDonald bunted him to third. After a walk to Philbin, Lee hit a sac fly to score Boehm to draw the deficit to two.
After two scoreless innings, Milwaukee extended the lead.
In the fifth, the Panthers got their first four batters on base. Hermann singled up the middle, then McShane doubled to left, sending him to third. Meeteer then hit another double that scored those two. Peake subsequently walked, but Koenig and Varsho flew out and Porcaro grounded out to end the initial flurry.
Milwaukee kept it up in the seventh. After Meeteer got a hit but then was caught stealing second, Peake walked again. After that, Koenig hit a two-run shot to left. The Flames then made a pitching change, as Noah Masa came in for starter Ian Lewandowski. Masa and Bohanek would commit a balk and an error, respectively, but the Panthers would not capitalize. Still, they held a 7-1 lead after the seventh.
The Flames would score one more run on a sac fly, resulting in a five-run win for Milwaukee.
“Game one was a clean game where we played well in all three phases,” Doffek said. “And it starts with a great outing by Pav. I thought today was exactly the effort we were looking for from the guys.”
The second game was a 10-inning defensive struggle where neither team could muster much with their bats.
UIC would open the scoring in the first on three hits off of Panthers’ starter Justin Langley. Bohanek and Detmer hit consecutive singles. After Boehm struck out, McDonald would hit another single that would score Bohanek to give the Flames a 1-0 lead.
It would take until the fourth for Milwaukee to answer. Koenig led off with a double down the left field line. Varsho subsequently struck out, with Koenig stealing third on the payoff pitch. Porcaro would single him in to tie the game.
Two more scoreless frames commenced, then the Panthers would take the lead.
McShane grounded out to open the frame, and then Meeteer singled to third. Peake then sac bunted him to second. UIC starter Trevor Lane then intentionally walked Koenig, but that move did not pay off, as Varsho singled and advanced to second on a wayward throw, allowing Meeteer to score for a one-run advantage.
The Flames would get that run back off of closer Cody Peterson, who was the third Milwaukee reliever to appear in the eighth. McDonald and Philbin singled and Lee walked off of Gunnar Eastman to load the bases. After that, Cronin would ground into a fielder’s choice, but the Panthers got the key out at home. However, Taylor, playing first this game, committed a crucial error that allowed Philbin to score and tie the game.
Neither team got a hit in the ninth, and in the tenth, Taylor led off with a single, but the next three hitters went down 1-2-3. This set up the late-game UIC heroics.
McDonald struck out to begin the frame, then Philbin. Lee subsequently singled him to third, then Peterson intentionally walked Cronin to load the bases. Kolakowski was sent in to pinch hit for backup catcher Gabe Dwyer, and this proved to be the difference-making maneuver. The substitute bat would single in Philbin for the walk-off 3-2 victory.
“In game two, Langley was good also,” Doffek said. “We had a chance to close that one out but we let our focus slip. We had a hard time coming up with that two-out hit that we needed, but I thought we competed hard all day which was great to see.”
The Panthers are now 24-15 and 10-10 in league play. They have two games at Henry Aaron Field against Edgewood College and Bradley before hitting the road for a weekend series against league foe Valparaiso.