---- — By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
MILTON -- Milton's baseball team has more seniors than a retirement community, so the Black Panthers' junior starters have to do something to stand out from the crowd.
In Wednesday's season-opener against Selinsgrove, Brady Chappell roped a tie-breaking hit with two outs in the last of the sixth inning, and then Mark Artley put a period on the 7-5 win with one of the game's best defensive plays.
It was strikingly confident comeback by the Black Panthers, one more likely seen in late April with a month of baseball in the rear-view rather than in the season's first try on a damp, brisk afternoon.
Selinsgrove scored the game's first two runs and led 5-3 after 4 1/2 innings. Milton scored a run with a two-out Jordon Bordner single in the home fifth, and struck again with two down in the sixth when Chappell came through with the bases loaded.
"I was just up there looking for the first good pitch," said Chappell, who was 2-for-4 after dealing with an illness that included a 102 fever early in the week. "I was swinging."
The junior clean-up hitter got a chance because the bottom of the Panthers' order set the table. Seven-hole batter Taylor Porter (2-for-2) worked a five-pitch walk to start the inning, and DH Neal Hoover ripped a liner through the left side of the infield. Mike Jacobs then sacrificed the runners into scoring position.
Artley, filling the leadoff role vacated by 2012 Daily Item Player of the Year Reynaldo Adames, reached for a 2-2 curve and dribbled it to the left side. A moment of hesitation over where to go with the ball allowed Porter to score the tying run and Artley to beat the throw.
Chad Diggan walked to loaded the bases and, after Damian Moyer's grounder forced out Hoover at home, Chappell, the seventh hitter of the inning, took a letter-high 2-2 fastball to left field to score a pair.
"This is an incredible gritty group, a tough group, and Brady exemplified that," said Milton assistant coach Aaron Ettinger, who ran the team Wednesday while second-year coach Chace Phillips served a one-game suspension for being ejected from last season's District 4 Class AAA championship game. "(Chappell) hasn't practiced for two consecutive days, and for him to come out and have the performance he had really shows something."
The Seals showed a lot, as well. With only 20 hours notice due to a schedule hiccup, they followed a 1-2-3 first inning with scoring chances in every other frame.
In both the second and fifth innings, Selinsgrove turned leadoff walks into runs by consistently putting the bat on the ball. In the second, Colby Crissinger and Austin Benner knocked in runs with groundballs; Crissinger's sacrifice fly in the fifth made it 5-3.
"They did a great job of taking advantage of those situations," said Chappell.
"We had opportunities; we did a lot of things right," said Seals coach Brent Beiler. "There are a lot of things I want to talk about now, things you don't always think about until you have a scrimmage or a game. It came at the cost of a loss, obviously, but we come out of here with a lot of positives."
Selinsgrove could have scored a sixth run in the sixth when Manny Little, running for sophomore DH Zach Hendricks (3-for-3, 2 RBIs), bolted from third on a pitch that got past Chappell. The flip from Chappell to reliever Damian Moyer covering the plate made it a bang-bang play and Little was called out to end the inning.
"Tough break there in the sixth," said Beiler. "We had a nice bunt and went first-to-third and didn't get the call at home, but sometimes it happens that way."
In the seventh, trailing by two, Selinsgrove's Tyler Cook worked a leadoff walk, but both he and Alex Moyer were forced out at second base. Colton Brouse hit a tailing liner to left field that was misplayed, putting two Seals on base. Crissinger then rolled a 3-2 pitch slowly toward shortstop that Artley, having switched places with Moyer, charged, fielded and fired across his body for the game's final out.
"Mark is a fantastic shortstop and we really don't miss a beat when he's out there, even though Damian is also a fantastic shortstop and one of the best players in the entire league," said Ettinger. "I had full confidence that he was going to make that play."