---- — By Todd Stanford
For The Daily Item
MIFFLINBURG -- A Milton fan summed up Thursday's Heartland Athletic Conference Division I showdown best as he walked away from the Mifflinburg softball field. "That was two heavyweight boxers going at it."
True enough. The two perennial District 4 powerhouses each put their unbeaten records on the line in a battle for first place in the HAC-I. Mifflinburg's Kayla Kline and Sara Stauffer each homered, Kelcie Crabb had three hits, and winning pitcher Ally Lloyd worked her way out of a seventh-inning jam as the Wildcats escaped with a 7-6 victory.
"This was a tough game," Mifflinburg coach Steve Ross said. "When we got in the circle there (at the end of the game), I said, 'Take a breath now. Breathe.'"
In a game between two teams that are used to shutting down the opposition, Thursday's contest turned into an offensive barrage. There were a combined 21 hits and four home runs.
"I was nervous," said Stauffer, whose two-run homer in the fourth gave the Wildcats (6-0, 6-0 HAC-I) the lead for good. "But it's good for us to be in games like this."
Milton (5-1, 5-1) got home runs from Bayli Derr and Bethany Brennan. The Black Panthers added three doubles, but they also left 11 runners on base.
"I figured we would score some runs," Milton coach Bill Keefer said. "We played the way a team should play tonight. I'm proud of that."
Taylor Batman took the loss for the Black Panthers; she was relieved in the sixth by Dani Lincoln.
"Their 3-4-5 hitters had hammered us all day long," Keefer said. "I wanted to show them something different, and get (Lincoln) a little experience at the same time."
Brennan hit a solo shot over the left-center fence to start the seventh, getting Milton within 7-6. Batman later hit a one-out double and Kiah Brink hit a bloop single to right to put runners on the corners. But Lloyd got leadoff hitter Mack Miller to pop out to her, and Lloyd then whiffed Lincoln to end the game.
"It was a good game all around," Ross said. "You're looking at two good teams. We have to face them one more time, and we'll probably see them in districts too."
The Black Panthers took a 3-2 lead on Derr's two-run shot to right-center in the top of the third. Mifflinburg tied it at 3 in its half of the third when Mackenzie Kyler singled in courtesy runner Morgan Kyler. Two batters later, with runners on second and third, the Wildcats' Mckenzie Noll singled to center. Stauffer scored from third with ease, but center fielder Linea Brouse threw home to Miller, who appeared to tag Mackenzie Kyler out at the plate. But she was called safe due to catcher interference.
"I guess the umpire called interference on the catcher," Ross said.
"He didn't tell me that," Keefer said of the home-plate umpire. "When I asked him why she wasn't out, all he said was, 'She hit the runner before the ball got there.' I said, 'What's that mean'? He said, 'She's safe.'"
Milton tied the game with two in the fourth before Stauffer hit her third home run in the last two games to give the Wildcats the lead for good.
"It felt great coming off the bat," Stauffer said.