Zach Lirke winds and fires. Litke was untouchable in his complete game shutout of the Crestwood Panthers Wednesday
Midlothian, Ill. – July 3, 2019 – Dave Letourneau noted that one of last season’s shortcomings for the Vikings was a lack of pitching depth.
This season, the Vikings (14-5) have turned their perceived weakness into perhaps their greatest strength with a bullpen and starting rotation that have been hard to solve for opposing offenses.
On Wednesday Zach Litke (Concordia University/Oak Lawn, Ill.) joined a growing list of Vikings pitchers having breakout performances, and his may have been the best yet. Litke went all nine innings, picking up 7 strikeouts and allowing just two hits as the Vikings won for the fifth time in a row, this time in a 1-0 thriller over the Crestwood Panthers.
“We’ve had great pitching performances but there hasn’t been one better than that,” said Letourneau. “It was unbelievable to watch. Best performance of the year by far.”
Letourneau has been giving the ‘best performance’ designation to his starters a lot of late as they continue to one up each other on the rubber. Litke was the third straight Vikings start to go at least seven innings while allowing just one run or fewer (Justin Rios 8 IP, 0 ER on Saturday; Jake Ruppert, 7 IP, 1 ER on Monday).
In the early going, Litke’s efforts were matched only by the Crestwood Panther’s starter Ethan Soderna. Soderna struck out six Vikings while only allowing three hits, however he was lifted after six innings of work. The Vikings put two men on in both the seventh and eighth innings but squandered scoring chances, and the pitcher’s duel continued with a scoreless tie into the eighth inning.
With the Vikings in danger of wasting a gem from Litke, the bottom of the order stepped up in the ninth. With one out, Michael Marseille (Lake Land College/Chicago Heights, Ill.) hit a slow roller down the third base line that he beat out for an infield single. Marseille would then steal second as Joe Curci (RPI/Chicago, Ill.) struck out in a pinch hit at bat, leaving it up to Kyel Alexander (Moraine Valley CC/Chicago, Ill.) to try and break the 0-0 tie with two down in the ninth.
And on the second pitch of the bat Alexander delivered a line drive back up the middle for the first run of the ball game. Alexander’s RBI was his fifth of the season and it helped cap off a 2-for-5 day for the Southland leadoff man, and it was a little in game adjustment that helped him collect his two hits and ultimately win the game for the Vikings. “He’s not getting separation from his hands to his body. We had a really quick conversation about that, and the next at-bat he doubles down the line. So, one little in-game adjustment was the difference in today’s game,” said Letourneau.
Working with the lead, Litke came out and threw a perfect ninth to complete the complete game victory and pick up his first win of the season.
For Litke, the start was his first appearance in a game since June 14th, the result of numerous rainouts on previously scheduled starts. In one previous start on June 1st Litke went 5 innings but allowed 8 ER in a loss to the NWI Oilmen. And while that start was more an outlier than anything, Letourneau could not have predicted Litke’s dominance Wednesday.
“I’ve seen him pitch a couple times, I know his complete level, but no I didn’t expect that,” said Letourneau. “To come out and just absolutely dominate, … that was A+.”
The win put the Vikings at 14-5 on the season, in sole possession of first in the MCL. With it being their 5th in a row, the win marked their second winning streak of at least 5 in a row this season (Southland won 7 in a row from June 5th to June 14th).
After a league wide off day Thursday for the Fourth of July, the Vikings open up a tough stretch Friday at DuPage, Saturday against the Oilmen in Whiting, then on Sunday in Bloomington for a double header. Letourneau however sees it as a great opportunity to take charge.
“This is a chance for us to really separate ourselves in the standings. We have a chance to control our own destiny right now, in the midway point of the season,” Letourneau said.
The Vikings matchup Friday against the Hounds is set for a 5 p.m. first pitch from Lemont. Will Trubshaw will have the call on the Southland Vikings Broadcast Network.