By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- There was no sense of panic in Millbrook's dugout when the Pioneers faced two outs in an inning.
With the way the Pioneers hit throughout the lineup Friday night at Sherando, any time was good for an RBI.
Millbrook scored all its runs with two outs and junior ace Brady Baker silenced Sherando until the sixth in a 9-4 romp that allowed the Pioneers to move into a second-place tie in the Northwestern District with the Warriors.
"We each wanted to come out and hit the baseball -- get on top of it -- and just come out and beat Sherando," Baker said. "It's the first time we've beat Sherando since I've been here and it feels great."
Idle Handley (7-10, 5-1) now holds a one-game lead in the district over Sherando (13-4, 4-2) and Millbrook (7-10, 4-2) with a little less than two weeks left in the regular season.
A four-run first inning set the tone against Sherando ace Zach Carney, and Millbrook kept banging out hits against Carney and reliever Jared Bentley to spoil the Warriors' senior night.
"We've been doing what we needed to do early in games -- hitting the ball, scoring runs, we've been putting guys on base," said senior outfielder Casey Fauver, who had his third homer of the season in the first. "We've got two guys who are about to break the [single-season] RBI record at Millbrook in Mike [Dillow] and Ethan [Mathews].
"You know, we're just hitting the ball and trying to keep the momentum going into our last two district games. Just seeing what we can do, and hopefully, we'll come out on top."
The Pioneers put up 15 hits and hit safely in every inning but the seventh.
"I'm happy for the kids," Millbrook coach Mike Smith said. "We've had some struggles this year, and I think everybody knows that. To come out early and swinging the bat and putting runs up, that definitely set the tone for us."
By the end of the fourth, Millbrook had an 8-0 lead and at least four players already had at least two hits apiece -- the Warriors had two hits, total, through four.
That was plenty of run support for Baker (5-1), who always seems to pitch well at Sherando.
"It feels like there's no pressure on me and I can go out and have fun," Baker said. "I can throw the ball, let them hit, and our fielders can make plays. I had to keep the ball down. I played with [some of Sherando's players] a long time ago and know how to pitch them. I did it, so that's what happens -- you come out with the 'W.'"
Baker pitched into the seventh and kept the Warriors off-balance with a bevy of pitches he could locate consistently for strikes. Baker shut out Sherando until the Warriors got their bats rolling with a four-run sixth. After Baker gave up a leadoff single in the seventh, Smith brought on Brad Smith to finish up.
Brad Smith retired three straight and the Pioneers could celebrate.
"I had all the confidence in the world that Brad Smith could close it down," Baker said. "He's a great pitcher and one of the best on our team. Since I got fatigued, I wanted him to come out and finish it for us."
Sherando had just one serious threat in the first five innings, moving two runners into scoring position when Baker had a two-out balk in the third. However, Baker came back to fan Tre Porter for the second time to end the inning.
Sherando finally got to Baker in the sixth for four runs, which included an RBI triple by Derek Reid and a two-run double by Bently. But Baker ended an inning for the fourth time with a punch-out to keep Millbrook's lead at four runs.
"Brady's pitched well all year, but for some reason in this game, he located better than he has all year," Mike Smith said. "He was hitting spots and was keeping his breaking ball down."
Millbrook did plenty of damage throughout against Sherando pitching.
Carney retired the first two batters of the game before Dillow singled to left. Fauver then hit a deep line shot to center that Brogan Hoover kept tracking but could not come up with as it fell on the warning track. Hoover crashed into the fence, and the ball had to be recovered by left fielder Dominique Porter. By the time the relay got back to the plate, Fauver had circled the bases for an inside-the-park home run.
"I knew I hit it good," Fauver said. "I had a little wind, I saw [Hoover] going back, he was playing a little shallow. I just rounded first and saw the ball drop, got on my horse rounding second, then a monkey jumped on my back at third a little bit."
Hoover sprained his back on the play, but stayed in. After Fauver's homer, Adam Jackson singled sharply to left and Collin Ryan blooped a hit into center in front of Hoover, with the hit getting by Hoover and Ryan ending up on second with a stand-up RBI double.
When Drew Braithwaite followed with a single up the middle to plate Ryan, the Pioneers had a 4-0 lead.
Fauver had the biggest night, going 4-for-5 with two runs scored, a homer and three RBIs.
"[Our guys] feed off of seniors like that," Mike Smith said. "With Casey, if things aren't going well, the team kind of seems to skid a little bit. When Casey's having a good game and he stays fired up, the guys just rally behind him."
The Pioneers spread their offense around, too. Ryan (3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs), Jackson (2-for-4, two runs scored, two RBIs), Dillow (2-for-4, two runs scored) and Jordan Hartman (2-for-4, double) helped the Pioneers avenge an earlier loss to the Warriors.
On April 13, Millbrook held leads of 6-0, 7-1, and 8-6 in the seventh before the Warriors rallied to send the game into extra innings. Sherando went on to win 11-9, one of the many crushing defeats the Pioneers have suffered late this season. Even this past Monday, Millbrook led Washington (W.Va.) by four runs with two outs in the bottom of the seventh only to lose 7-6.
It was a tough night for Carney (4-2). The senior left-hander, who did not pitch in the first game at Millbrook, gave up nine hits, five earned runs, two walks, and struck out just one in his 3 1/3 innings.
Though he credited Millbrook for outplaying his team in all areas of the game, Sherando coach Pepper Martin was very disappointed to see his team lose for the third time in four games.
"This was our most important game of the season and we fell flat on our faces," Martin said. "Some athletes respond to a little bit of pressure on them in intense situations. Others fold. It's disappointing to see us go the opposite direction tonight. I'm very disappointed in the total lack of effort from out pitching, to our defense, to our hitting. I guess the team's afraid of success.
"[We were] 12-1. We play down to the level of our competition. Unfortunately when we did that tonight, our competition was prepared to have their best game of the season. And they took it to us."