Joliet, IL – The defending Frontier League champions picked up right where they left off, as the Joliet Slammers defeated the Windy City ThunderBolts 2-1 on Opening Night.
Prior to first pitch, members of the 2018 Slammers were awarded championship rings celebrating the triumph at Joliet Route 66 stadium. For manager Jeff Isom, the ceremony acted as a culmination of all the effort his group provided during their championship run.
“It was great,” Isom said of the Opening Night festivities. “All the work we put in last season, from May 1st to September 18th when we ended up clinching, there was just a lot of emotions going through my mind and I know the team as well. It was nice to get those rings because now it’s like, ‘This is real, we really did win that thing.’”
It was back to business for Isom’s bunch, who returns five pitchers and eight position players from last season. Offensively, two of the aforementioned eight played a heavy hand in Joliet’s victory.
Cody Clark, who earned the Most Valuable Player award following his 5.1 perfect innings pitched in the deciding game five of the Frontier League Championship Series, homered in the 5th inning to get the Slammers on the board first. Two innings later, Brian Perreira sent one over the wall in deep left field for what ultimately turned into the game’s deciding run.
“I was a little surprised we had two home runs there for our offense,” Isom said. “We’re not going to be a team relying on home runs. We’re going to have to get on base and get some timely hitting and steal some bags.”
Joliet led the league in stolen bases in 2018 with 124, which was 13 more than the next closest team in the category. The Slammers also boasted the second-best ERA in the league with a collective 3.68 and ranked in the top half of the league in fielding percentage.
Isom successfully established a culture within the locker room that has translated to success on the field. In 2019, the Slammers skipper took on a familiar philosophy as he pieced together his roster.
“We built this team on pitching and defense,” Isom said. “We’re going to scratch some runs here and there offensively, but what you saw tonight was how we won last year.”
Travis Bolin and Ridge Hoopii-Haslam each stole a bag in the win, while Riley Krane notched two hits including a double in his Slammers debut. Scot Hoffman was efficient over seven scoreless innings, as the 25-year-old right-hander earned the win after allowing just four hits while striking out five and walking two. There were no errors committed by either team.
The ThunderBolts made a late rally in the 8th thanks to a double by Tyler Straub that drove in David Oppenheim, who had two hits including a double of his own. Ryan Koziol needed only six pitches to earn the save in his Slammers debut.
“Last year it took us six games to get our first win,” Isom noted. “I’ll definitely take the win tonight.”
The ThunderBolts and Slammers both hit the road for three games and will return home on Tuesday, May 14th. Windy City will kick off its home schedule on that Tuesday, as the organization celebrates its 20th season in Crestwood, Illinois.