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By Robert Edmonds - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- The signs of joy and relief were displayed brightly on the Millbrook players' faces as they walked off of the baseball diamond Wednesday night. That's because the team had just survived its first victory of the season as the Pioneers held off Skyline 7-4 at Bing Crosby Stadium.
"You have to give Millbrook a lot of credit," Skyline coach Ben Taylor said. "They really wanted this game more than our team. Their pitcher did a real nice job throwing strikes and we didn't do very well fundamentally. We didn't deserve to win this game."
All but one of Millbrook's starting offensive players reached base on the night as the Pioneers were able to use solid hitting to knock Hawks starting pitcher Luke Pingley out of the game after just 3 1/3 innings of work while giving up four runs.
Similar results came against Skyline relief pitcher David Thomas, who gave up three runs on the night. Despite the success, Millbrook couldn't be sure that victory was in hand until the last out.
"We've been in this situation twice before this season and we had two blown leads to show for it," Millbrook coach Brian Burke said. "Tonight was big for our team and big for their confidence to come out on top in this situation."
Leading 5-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Skyline looked to rally and close the deficit. With two outs, Pingley reached base with a single to center field. The next batter, Ty Helmick, hit a routine ground ball to second, but the throw from second baseman Jacob Jaye to first was off the mark and both runners advanced to second and third base, respectively.
Suddenly, the Hawks had the tying run at the plate and were threatening. Pingley scored when David Thomas dropped a bloop single into left and then, with Eli McEathron at the plate, the Hawks executed a double steal. When Thomas broke for second, Millbrook catcher Ethan Mathews fired the ball to the base in hopes of catching the runner. Just as the ball left Mathews' hand, Helmick sprinted home to draw within one run, 5-4.
"We had the error in the sixth inning, but we knew we couldn't get down on that," Millbrook starting pitcher Brady Baker said.
Unfortunately for Skyline, Baker was able to strike out McEathron to end the threat. With its momentum sliding, Millbrook needed to add an insurance run heading into the final inning. The Pioneers responded quickly when the second batter of the inning, Jay Hughes, rocked a Thomas pitch to right-center field for a two-run home run that extended the lead to 7-4.
"We talked a lot about adjusting from one pitcher to the next," Burke said. "They went from a right-hander to a left-hander who was throwing off speed. Jay [Hughes] did a good job of staying back on the ball and made good contact."
When the Pioneers retook the field on defense in the bottom half of the inning, a sense of confidence filled the air. Baker wasted little time finishing the game, as he struck out the side in the bottom in the seventh to give his team its first win of the season. Baker recorded 12 strikeouts in a complete-game performance.
"Brady [Baker] was outstanding tonight," Burke said. "He had command of all three of his pitches and hit his spots. I was still breathing fast when we went on the field, and he took care of things for us."
Baker said: "The first win is always the hardest and we finally got that out of the way tonight. It's really big for our team, and hopefully we keep hitting and playing well. Hopefully this is contagious and catches on with our team."