By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
They celebrated Senior Day at Logue Field prior to Wednesday’s game.
And while a large contingent of Williamsport players and their parents were recognized, no one said the Milton seniors couldn’t enjoy themselves as well.
Mark Artley doubled and scored the game-tying run in the fourth inning, Jeff Levitan’s leadoff single in the sixth led to the go-ahead run, and Brady Chappell drove in the final run of the Black Panthers’ seriously clutch 5-2 win.
Then there was Corey Kriner, the former Montgomery standout playing for Milton by way of Meadowbrook Christian. He knocked in the Panthers’ first two runs Wednesday and went the distance on the mound, retiring 11 of the last 12 Millionaires he faced in a fearless effort.
Kriner got out of bases-loaded jams twice in the middle innings, then fell into a groove that saw him need significantly fewer pitches to get through each of the last three innings (20 to 11 to 7). He allowed two unearned runs on seven hits, walked two and struck out four in just his third varsity start.
“I guess it was just dusting off some cobwebs,” Kriner said. “I didn’t really throw well at all in my last outing against Warrior Run, so it was nice to get some things rolling.”
Indeed. The Panthers, forced to win their last four games to qualify for districts, won consecutive games for the first time this season following Tuesday’s 16-12 slugfest at Danville. Milton (8-9) has only Saturday’s Giles Tournament at Montoursville left and must win the championship (or just the opener and hope for rain) to hit the .500 qualifying mark.
“They absolutely deserve a chance,” said Milton coach Chace Phillips. “With the way our season’s been up-and-down, we’ve persevered and we haven’t given up. We’ve had so many opportunities to blow the season completely open and we haven’t come up with big plays.
“Hopefully right now we’re peaking at the right time. It’s exciting.”
Williamsport (11-7) scored its only runs in the second inning without the benefit of a hit. Kriner walked the eight-hole hitter on four pitches, then fielded a sacrifice bunt and threw the ball into the batter’s back up the first-base line. The next two Millionaires grounded out, each plating a run for a 2-1 lead.
Williamsport immediately loaded the bases on a hit, infield error and a walk, but Milton shortstop Gage Heller made a good play on a sharp grounder to end the inning at 2-1.
“(The throwing error) got in my head a little bit, but (catcher) Brady Chappell — a captain, my best friend — came out to the mound,” said Kriner. “I won’t repeat what he said, but he got it rolling. He got my attention.”
An inning later, Williamsport’s bottom two batters put Kriner in another bad spot, hitting singles on back-to-back pitches ahead of leadoff man Noah Esposito’s first-pitch hit that filled the bases with one out. Kriner got Charles Bittner to foul out near the home dugout, then fanned Ludwikowski (who was 2-for-2) on three pitches.
Chappell wanted Kriner to elevate a fastball on 0-2, but Kriner missed badly away. He still got a swing to end the inning.
“It was huge,” Kriner said of the punchout. “He’d been hitting everything I was throwing early on.”
From that point, Kriner allowed only a two-out double in the fifth, ending the game with seven straight outs.
“After the error, I think he really started to zone in,” said Phillips. “It took maybe a handful of pitches to realize it, but he started bearing down and he was a different guy. He went after every hitter, and we played great defense behind him.”
The Panthers out-hit Williamsport by one (8-7) and every ball was squared up — from Kriner’s RBI single in the second to Chappell’s in the seventh — against three Millionaires pitchers.
They were getting better swings against Williamsport’s Davey Ludwikowski the second time around. But the starter was lifted after three innings for Gabe Rader, another righty with better velocity and better command of the strike zone.
Rader struck out the first batter he faced and went 0-2 on Artley before filling the count and seeing a 3-2 fastball laced into the right-center gap. Kriner then burned the left fielder with another double to tie the score at 2.
“Mark has battled all year offensively and doesn’t have a whole lot to show for it,” said Phillips. “He works deep counts, just battles pitchers. He said in the dugout, ‘It only takes one to break a slump.’
“That was a huge spot in the game.”
Levitan’s sixth-inning hit led to a run with the help of an error. Pinch-runner Brennan Eves scored on a wild pitch. In the seventh, Brandon Stokes smoked a leadoff double to left-center, and, two outs later, Lance Fogelman hit a sinking liner to left for an RBI double. Chappell capped the scoring with his second hit ahead of Kriner’s 1-2-3 seventh.
“I know our guys are capable of being (in districts),” said Kriner, who appeared in three district finals with Montgomery. “In my eyes, and I think in the majority of our team’s eyes, we’re the best team around. I would take them against any team.”