---- — By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
MILTON -- With two outs and runners on second and third base in the bottom of the seventh inning Thursday, Milton coach Bill Keefer looked down the third base line to batter Kiah Brink and told her it was moments like this that get you on ESPN by stepping up and being a hero.
ESPN may not have been at Milton High, but it was definitely a moment for Brink to become a hero.
Brink ripped a 1-2 pitch at Danville's shortstop. Instead of being cleanly fielded, the ball was bobbled and no play could be made before Milton's Katelyn Gensel trotted across home plate with the winning run.
It capped a late flurry by Milton to win its season-opener against the HAC-I rival Ironmen, 11-10, on a cold and cloudy afternoon.
Trailing by four heading into the sixth inning, the Black Panthers (1-0, 1-0 HAC-I) started to get some breaks against the Ironmen (0-1, 0-1 HAC-I).
With the bases loaded after a Dani Lincoln single, Mary Adams got walked to bring a run in. A passed ball allowed Brink to score, then an error at third base brought in two more runs to tie the game at 10-all and shift the momentum to Milton, who hadn't led since the third inning.
"We could've been out of that inning with no runs that they scored the four in. So happens the girl walks and it goes from there," Danville coach Dwayne Heeter said. "For a first game, I'm pretty proud of the girls. We hit the ball well. Overall, we fielded (well). We've only been outside three or four times, (but) we did well." Gensel opened the seventh inning with a leadoff single into shallow left field before Payton Davis reached on a bunt single to put two runners on with no outs. Brink then ended the game with her grounder.
Milton took the lead early in the third inning thanks to some clutch hitting. After MacKenna Miller grounded out and Lincoln popped out, the Black Panthers then rattled off five consecutive hits with two outs as Adams, Linea Brouse (2-for-3), Bayli Derr (3-4, double), Bethany Brennan and Gensel (2-3) all connected.
The offensive spurt drove in four runs to give Milton the 6-4 lead.
Danville responded by scoring six runs through the fourth and fifth innings in which it sent 16 batters to the plate. The Ironmen had 24 total batters between the third and fifth.
It was during the fourth inning that Keefer made a pitching change, putting Lincoln -- a freshman pitcher -- in the circle to throw for Taylor Batman.
"Our girls are very patient. We made the girls pitch and when they did get one over, we hit it," Heeter said. "We made some mistakes. (Milton) can hit the ball, though; that's a tough team. You have to play every out. They just came right back on us and we let some things get away from us." And hit the ball Milton did, collecting 13 in the win.
Lincoln struggled a bit initially, walking three straight runners home before getting control late in the game when it got close. It was that pitching switch that gave Danville some room to make a move.
"I didn't want either one of them (Lincoln, Batman) throwing an over abundance of pitches. (Lincoln) was a little nervous and couldn't get the ball over the plate for awhile, then we missed the ball at third base there and it just snowballed after that," Keefer said. "She settled down. She threw the last two innings real well (and) didn't give up a run the last two innings. Just a matter of settling down and throwing the ball for strikes."
While two threw for Milton, the Ironmen stuck with Lesley Fritz all seven innings in the circle. Fritz, who pitched in only a handful of games last year, made her first full-time start in Thursday's loss.
Fritz also contributed offensively by hitting a deep double to center field that brought home Alyssa Shaw for the game's first run.
Miller blasted a 1-1 pitch for a home run deep over the left field fence to tie it at 1-all. Derr gave Milton a 2-1 lead in the second inning by scoring from third on a throwing error.
"I'm glad we hit the ball well. It's first game of the year, it's cold (and) you're going to have mistakes defensively," Keefer said. "We got to be able to throw strikes. Hopefully we'll get to where we can get ahead and get people out. We didn't do that very well (Thursday)."