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By Robert Edmonds - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- After jumping out to an early lead only to see it slip it away, Millbrook remained poised and resilient as the Pioneers handed Handley a 6-3 loss and won their third consecutive game Wednesday night in Northwestern District baseball action.
In the second inning, the Pioneers' bats came alive against Handley starter Cody Unger. Collin Ryan started off the inning with a lead-off double to left field. After the next two batters recorded outs, Millbrook began a two-out rally to take the lead.
Jacob Jaye roped a triple down the right-field line that scored Ryan. Jeremiah Eaton then followed with a single to score Jaye. On the next play, a Judges error allowed Eaton to cross home plate and give Millbrook a quick 3-0 advantage early in the evening.
"Jacob [Jaye] is a tremendous baseball player," Pioneers coach Brian Burke said. "He delivered for us and has done a great job adjusting at the varsity level early."
The lead quickly dissolved when Handley came to the plate in the next inning as Millbrook helped the Judges' cause with defensive mistakes. With two outs, Unger hit a shot to third base that was fielded cleanly, but the throw to first was off the mark and allowed Unger to reach base and one run to score.
Ryan Hayes, the next batter, then reached on a similar play when a throw by the shortstop to first was wide and Unger scored, cutting the margin to 3-2. Jacob Rudolph then lined a double to center field to even the score for the Judges before the Pioneers could end the inning.
"I felt like we reverted back to some of our old ways during that inning," Burke said. "We made three mistakes in a row and let them back into the game, and I was a little worried."
With skies threatening storms, the Pioneers regained the lead in the fifth on a blown play by the Judges. Handley's reliever, Hayes, walked the first two batters in the inning before he found himself being relieved by Nolan Potts, who knocked down the next two batters and appeared to be on the brink of escaping the inning.
Speedster Jordan Hartman led off at third and Brady Baker anchored first for the Pioneers while Potts focused his efforts on ending the inning. When Baker broke for second base, Potts made a throw to the bag and Baker retreated, but the Handley defense failed to notice Hartman sprinting to home plate.
Hartman managed to score before Baker was caught in a rundown and Millbrook took a 4-3 lead into the sixth. A lightning delay briefly halted the game, but when the two teams returned it was the Pioneers who appeared primed to notch the victory.
Lane Spinks came on to pitch in the sixth, relieving Baker, and was stellar against the Judges' lineup. Spinks received some insurance in the bottom half of the sixth inning from teammate Eaton. With one runner on, Eaton delivered a blow with a two-run home run to left field to extend the lead.
"I am very proud of how our team continued to fight after giving up the early lead," Burke said. "When we came back after the delay, we wanted to score one more run. When Jeremiah [Eaton] hit that home run, it was absolutely huge for us."
A three-run advantage proved to be more than enough as Spinks finished off the Judges, recording six outs against six batters and giving Millbrook the win.
"We can't lose the momentum that we have going right now," Burke said. "We have really built some confidence and I have seen improvements in many different aspects of our game, and we need to keep building on that and continue to be competitive."