The Milwaukee Panthers baseball team dropped two out of three games to the Horizon League-leading Illinois-Chicago Flames over the weekend. After unsatisfactory weather and field conditions at Henry Aaron Field caused Friday’s game to be postponed until Sunday, the Panthers won the series opener, 4-1, on Saturday. However, the results were quite different on Sunday afternoon, as the team dropped both games of the twinbill, 5-0 and 4-3, respectively.
Saturday’s game was a pitcher’s duel through the first five innings, as UIC hurler Jake Dahlberg held the Panthers scoreless.
However, senior outfielder Sam Koenig drove in junior Luke Meeteer for the game-tying run in the sixth inning on one of his two hits. Meeteer also contributed offensively, with two hits of his own and a stolen base to increase his league-leading total to 20.
The next inning, freshman catcher Daulton Varsho hit an RBI double to give Milwaukee a 2-1 lead. After that, he scored all the way from second on outfielder Derek Peake’s bunt single down the first base line.
“It starts off with the double,” Coach Scott Doffek said. “That was huge to get us the lead. It was just an instinct play. He is a plus-baserunner – I don’t know what the watch says, but that kid can run the bases. Peake put down a great bunt and Dalton never hesitated and had a phenomenal slide at the plate.”
Senior reliever Cal Haley was credited with the win, and fellow senior, closer Cody Peterson pitched a three-up, three-down ninth inning for his seventh save of the season.
However, Sunday’s games did not go nearly as well for the Panthers, as much of the two defeats can be attributed to miscues in the field and pitching control issues. The former an issue in the first game and the latter in the second.
The Panthers committed three errors in the first game, these mistakes proving costly enough to cause starting pitcher Joe Pavlovich to surrender three unearned runs. Pavlovich did give up two walks, and relievers Zach Brenner and Jake Tuttle each had one. However, most of the damage done by the Flames came as a result of shaky fielding by Milwaukee.
“We beat ourselves, for sure,” said Doffek.
On offense, the Panthers made solid contact throughout the course of the game, but much of the line drives and fly balls hit ended up in UIC gloves..
“I felt like we barreled a lot of balls in game 1 and just didn’t get any result,” Doffek elaborated after the game.
The bad luck made the Panthers unable to muster any runs en route to an underwhelming 5-0 defeat.
Pavlovich was the losing pitcher, dropping his record to 2-1.
The second game of the day was a much cleaner game in the field.
“We just made routine plays,” said Doffek. “That was the difference in game 1. We had a couple balls get away from us and we made routine plays in game 2.”
However, it took the offense until the fifth inning to finally produce some runs, and after taking a 2-0 lead on an offensive attack that included a double steal that baffled the Flames defense into the sixth inning, control troubles found the pitchers.
“We lost conviction and confidence and the strike zone got away from us,” said Doffek. “We had just taken a two-run lead, and you just can’t do that.”
“When a pitcher gives them a walk, they gain momentum on their side,” added Varsho. “But, Justin did a very good job and he just lost a little focus at the end but (we) can’t really do too much, he gave us five solid, good innings.”
The team gave up three consecutive walks, one by starter Justin Langley and two by reliever Adam Reuss, all in the sixth inning. One of those walks came with the bases loaded, and the Flames cashed in two more of those extra baserunners with a two-RBI double by outfielder Jeff Boehm off of reliever Justin Jaquish. First baseman Alex Lee chipped in another RBI to give the visitors their first lead and the lead for good.
After UIC tacked on another run in the seventh to extend to a 4-2 lead, the Panthers had a golden opportunity.
But, the bad luck offensively from the first game returned. Two singles and a walk loaded the bases for Milwaukee with no outs. However, Koenig hit a sharp line drive that was caught on a leap by Flames second baseman David Cronin, who then threw to first to complete a double play that essentially killed the potential rally, as designated hitter Mike Porcaro lined out to the pitcher on the ensuing at-bat.
After a scoreless eighth inning by Gunnar Eastman, the Panthers attempted one more rally in the ninth inning, scoring one run on two walks and a hit. However, second baseman Tell Taylor struck out to end the game.
Langley suffered through his first loss of the season.
Varsho was one of the bright spots during the series loss. He was able to get himself on base seven times: drawing three walks during the doubleheader and finishing the series with four hits. In addition, he had one run and one RBI. He remained optimistic following the losses.
“I think, as a team, we hit the ball very well,” said Varsho. “Some of the things just didn’t drop for us. They gained momentum throughout the whole game but we battled back.”
The Panthers are now 17-11, 6-8 in Horizon League play, four games behind the league-leading Flames. Milwaukee’s next game is on Tuesday, April 14 at Western Illinois, the first half of another doubleheader before coming home the next day to take on Chicago State.