By Tom Robinson
For The Daily Item
KINGSTON -- Milton kept the game close for eight innings and made it closer in the ninth.
In the end, however, Milton was simply the latest victim of unbeaten Swoyersville, falling 2-1 Saturday in the opening round of the Pennsylvania Region 5 Senior American Legion baseball tournament.
"My kids didn't quit," Milton manager Dave Byers said after his team scored its only run in the top of the ninth inning and got the tying run to third base. "They kept right on battling away.
"I'm proud of them for that, extremely proud."
Milton faced the difficulty of meeting what is possibly the strongest opponent in the first round. The loss means the team heads to the losers' bracket where it would have to win five times over the next four days to claim the regional title and advance to state play.
The attempt to fight back begins this morning at 9:30 at Hanover Area High School where Milton will face West Scranton, an 8-1 loser to Mansfield/Wellsboro in another first-round game Saturday.
"We knew coming in that Swoyersville was undefeated and when they were 15 years old, they were junior state champions," Byers said.
Swoyersville, using many of the same players from that 2010 Junior Legion title team, went 20-0 this season while winning the title in the Wyoming Valley League, which is hosting regionals.
Luzerne County College pitcher Matt Zielen retired the first nine, including five strikeouts, for Swoyersville. He took a two-hit shutout into the ninth inning and finished with a four-hitter.
Joe Pechulis went 4-for-4 for Swoyersville with an RBI single in the first inning and a double in the fourth.
Pechulis was thrown out at the plate in the fourth inning, but Swoyersville still added what ultimately became the winning run.
Jeremy Worlinsky intentionally got hung up between first and second on a stolen base attempt during a first-and-third situation with two outs.
Evan McCue broke for home. Milton second baseman Michael Jacobs tracked down Worlinsky and tagged him at about the same time McCue arrived home. The home plate umpire ruled that McCue made it to the plate before the out was recorded.
"It was a banger at the plate," Byers said. "In my eyes, he didn't make it. In their eyes, he did."
Daniel Bridge provided much of the Milton offense. He had two of the four hits, including a double for the only extra-base hit, and scored the only run.
Bridge was the first baserunner with a lead-off single in the fourth. He then led off the ninth with his double.
Damian Moyer's one-out single pushed Bridge to third where he was able to score on Brady Chappell's groundball for the second out.
"Credit to Matty Zielen, he's a bulldog out there," Swoyersville manager Sean Toole said. "And, credit to Milton, they never gave up."
Cody Shaffer kept Swoyersville contained with the help of some outstanding defense. Swoyersville had six runners reach scoring position from the fifth to the eighth inning while leading 2-0, but none scored.
Shaffer struck out six and walked two batters while hitting two others.
Byers said Milton will face West Scranton this morning without Chappell, the catcher, and Josh Brown, the first baseman, because of work commitments.