BY KRISTI REED
After forcing a third game in the playoff series with Walton, Mill Creek head coach Doug Jones said he felt good that his team was able to split Wednesday night’s doubleheader.
After losing the first game 5-2, the Hawks fought back in game two to take a 7-5 victory and keep their playoff hopes alive.
Game three, originally scheduled for Thursday, was rained out giving both teams an extra day to prepare for the final and deciding game of the series. Unfortunately for Mill Creek, Walton turned in a solid offensive performance to get the 8-1 victory and advance to round three of the state playoffs.
Though disappointed with the loss, Jones said he was proud of his team’s accomplishments this season.
“I’m extremely proud of that first region championship,” he said. “This is the first four-year group in the baseball program and they have helped set the tone. They have shown these other guys what kind of work ethic it takes. These seniors were great kids. Good things happen to good people and they’re good people and they deserved every bit of success they had. I am very happy for them.”
Mill Creek will take a few days off before kicking off the summer baseball season. The Hawks travel to Loganville for a Memorial Day tournament which begins this Thursday.
Walton took charge early in game one of Wednesday night’s doubleheader. The Raiders’ first batter, Billy Burns, hit a double and scored two plays later.
The Hawks answered that run in the bottom of the second when Johnny Knight hit a solo home run, his tenth of the season.
After a scoreless third inning, Walton broke the 1-1 tie after a Mill Creek error resulted in runners on first and third with no outs. A long ball to left center by Daniel Ficarrotta sent Kyle Putkonen and Wole Imoukhuede home, giving the Raiders a 3-1 lead.
Mill Creek made an attempt at a comeback in the fifth. With runners on first and third and two outs, Jacob German hit a single to send pinch runner Ben Evans across the plate. The Hawks ended the inning trailing 3-2, leaving two runners stranded.
Walton added to its lead in the sixth. With one out, Mill Creek pitcher Brandon Bast walked Putkonen. One out later, Walton pitcher Mark Pope hit a home run to increase the Raiders’ lead to 5-2 – a lead Mill Creek could not overcome.
Despite the loss, Jones said he thought the first game was a good game. Jones was particularly pleased with the effort he got from pitcher Brandon Bast.
“I thought Brandon Bast threw outstanding,” Jones said. “He wasn’t feeling that well. He just went out there and competed his guts out and I couldn’t be more proud.”
If game one was good for the Hawks, game two was much better.
Mill Creek led off the scoring with a solo home run by Noah Hanley.
Good pitching by Mill Creek’s Matt Grimes and Walton’s Kyle Putkonen kept the second and third innings scoreless for both teams and the top of the fourth scoreless for Mill Creek.
What began as a pitching duel turned into batting practice as the Hawks and Raiders combined for eleven runs in two innings of play.
Walton started the slugfest with a solo home run from Putkonen in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game one all. With Daniel Ficarrotta on first and two outs, Ryan Mitzel hit a line drive to the left field wall. Ficarrotta scored on a costly Mill Creek error giving the Raiders a 2-1 lead heading into the fifth.
Mill Creek evened the score quickly in the top of the fifth. With runners on second and third, Sam Davis bunted to send pinch runner Jordan Gauthier home. Mill Creek scored twice on the play when a Walton error gave Travis Hammond the opportunity to cross home plate.
Leading 3-2 with two outs, Mill Creek set up another score with a single from Hunter Pope. Jacob German then knocked one out of the park to give the Hawks a 5-2 lead.
Walton fought back in the bottom of the inning. After singles from Billy Burns and Alex Sherrod, Spencer Kieboom hit a double to get both runners home making the score 5-4.
Jones pulled Grimes out of the game and brought in relief pitcher Tyler Akins to finish the inning.
With runners on first and second and two outs, a throwing error by the Hawks allowed Walton to tie the game 5-5.
Walton began the sixth inning with a pitching change, brining in Alex Sherrod to replace Kyle Putkonen. Sherrod struck out the first Mill Creek batter and walked the second to bring Johnny Knight to the plate. Knight came through for the Hawks in a big way, hitting his eleventh home run of the season to give Mill Creek a 7-5 lead.
Walton was not able to mount any more offense and Mill Creek held on to win game two.
Jones said Knight has been a big help to the Hawks offensively.
“He has been on fire. He has carried us for a while,” Jones said.
Though the Hawks and Raiders had sixteen hits between them, the three Walton errors and one Mill Creek error were big factors in the final score.
“These are 16, 17 year old kids,” Jones said. “They make mistakes. These are two good programs. It was good baseball I thought.”
After a scoreless first inning, Walton took a 1-0 lead in the second with a solo home run by Daniel Ficarotta.
Mill Creek tied the score in the fourth when a double by Johnny Knight sent a runner home. It was to be the Hawks’ only score of the night.
Walton’s Ficarotta doubled in the fourth inning to drive in another run and give the Raiders a 2-1 lead. By the end of the inning, Walton had scored twice more to extend their lead to 4-1.
The Raiders scored four more unanswered runs over the next two innings to secure the 8-1 victory and advance to the next round of playoff action. Walton will face Camden County in the third round of the state playoffs this week.
Jones said his team played hard Friday night and got some good pitching from Cody Clickner.
“He started off good. He threw the ball extremely well. I actually thought he was going to have the opportunity to either shut them out or hold them to a run,” he said.
“It just wasn’t our day. The kids played hard, but the better team won that day.”