The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Sports

April 23, 2014

H.S. baseball: Red-hot Midd-West wins seventh straight by topping Milton

BEAVER SPRINGS — Aaron Sharp gripped the ball a bit tighter when he realized Wednesday’s game was halted for a mound visit.

Sure, he’d put two Milton hitters on base with two outs in the last inning. He still felt fine, in control, and not keen on the idea of giving up the ball.

Midd-West’s sophomore right-hander was relieved to learn it was simply a “How ya doin’” trip. Four pitches later, he fielded a comebacker for the out that put he and the Mustangs into the district playoffs.

Sharp threw a three-hitter, and Midd-West pulled away with a five-run sixth inning, beating Milton 8-1 for its seventh consecutive win and 10th in 11 games. The Mustangs became the first Valley team to secure a district berth.

“I remember back when I used to watch the games as a kid, they would go through a season 3-and-17, 4-and-16,” said Sharp. “So starting out 10-and-1? That’s a huge accomplishment.”

Midd-West made last year’s district field (and ultimately the title game) at 12-8. The Mustangs’ only misstep to date was an April 3 loss to Jersey Shore, the defending district champion and squad they’re chasing in the Heartland Athletic Conference Division I standings.

“I don’t know what to think,” Mustangs coach Ron Flood said of the white-hot start. “They’re a good group of kids. They play hard baseball, and they’ll do anything I ask them to do.

“They just said, ‘Let’s keep going. Let’s keep ‘er going.’”

Sharp was excellent after loading the bases with no outs in the second. He stranded the bases full with the help of third baseman Ryan Combs, who juggled a grounder but recovered to erase a runner at the plate.

Sharp coaxed outs from 10 consecutive Black Panthers, bridging the second and fifth innings with zeroes until Milton scratched across an unearned run. He strung together six outs between the fifth and seventh innings before Panthers leadoff man Lance Fogelman doubled to left and Mark Artley took a four-pitch walk. That sequence prompted Sharp’s visit, and he was grateful for it later.

“It gave me time to settle down and let my nerves cool,” he said. “In the seventh inning, when you’re up, you get a little nervous. So being told to settle down and just throw strikes helped a lot.”

Could he have managed without the talk?

“I probably could have,” he said with a laugh.

“I wanted to see him finish,” said Flood. “He threw a heck of a ballgame for us, so I gave him a bit more than I would have normally on a day like this. He said he felt pretty good.”

Cloud cover and a stiff wind made it feel a good 10-12 degrees cooler — cold enough for the umpire to allow the pitchers to blow on their hands. The brisk conditions may have had a hand in Milton’s seven errors, several of them throws across the diamond.

The Panthers (3-4, 3-3 HAC-I) had three miscues in a two-run third that bumped Midd-West ahead 3-0. Hunter Shuff ripped a pitch back at Artley for the only hit of the inning.

“It was a tough inning. If we get through that one, make those plays, it’s possibly a different outcome,” said Milton coach Chace Phillips. “But give them all the credit. They do the things they need to win a game. They hit power ground balls and line drives; they play good defense and they throw strikes.”

Milton’s fifth-inning run made it 3-1 and provided some hope as senior Corey Kriner followed with his second perfect inning of relief. In the home sixth, however, Midd-West got a bead on the curveball that got Kriner four strikeouts in three innings, banging out five hits.

Matt Aurand and Sharp lashed consecutive RBI singles; Eli Stem followed with a run-scoring triple to right field; and Shane Connahan doubled to straightaway center and made it 8-1.

“Last inning I told them, ‘Move up on that curveball and start slapping it,’” said Flood. “They moved up and start slapping it around. I pinch-hit a guy (Aurand) and he gets a big hit.

“They make you look like a million dollars, but the coach is nothing. The kids do all the playing.”

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