MILTON — Northumberland hit a pair of first-inning singles off Milton pitcher Noah Inch on Monday.
Inch did not allow a hit the rest of the way as Milton claimed a 5-2 win in the decisive game in the best-of-three semifinal series in the North Branch baseball playoffs.
Milton will play Berwick for the title in another best-of-three series in the adult amateur baseball league. Berwick hosts a doubleheader Saturday.
Inch allowed the leadoff batter to reach base in each of the first four innings, but came back to keep Northumberland from scoring. He delivered first-pitch strikes to 15 of the 29 batters he faced in the game.
“For me personally I pitch better when somebody is on base,” Inch said. “It always makes me bear down and throw strikes, even though I should do it from the start. When I have guys on base, I feel like I lock in more for some reason. Then once they get on, I just have to bear down and the seven guys behind me have to do their jobs.”
Kyle Leitzel and Chuck Schlegel hit the early singles for the Renegades, but Inch got a strike out and a diving catch in left field by Noah Showers to end the first inning.
Inch finished with eight strikeouts, and Northumberland scored only a pair of unearned runs in the top of the seventh.
“I just have to get ahead and stay ahead,” Inch said. “Once I do that, I don’t have any trouble. When I pitch ahead, all my pitches are working. I have to avoid putting those leadoff batters on. The statistic is 80 percent of leadoff walks come around to score, and I have to eliminate that going forward.”
Inch worked with the lead throughout the game as Milton scored in the first inning to go ahead for good.
Jared Bender reached when he was hit on the second of two inside pitches to start the bottom of the first inning. His brother Vinnie Bender drove him home with a line drive into center field two batters later. Vinnie Bender finished with two hits. He singled in the third as Milton added a second run off an RBI single from DH Steve Russell.
“A lot of these guys are from different school districts and have all played against each other,” Milton manager Tim Walter said. “They gelled at the right time. I made some lineup adjustments. Steve Russell was a surprise in the lineup and he came through tonight. That’s huge, because some of these guys are young, and when Steve gets a hit it gets them pumped up.”
Milton added to its advantage in the fifth when Alex Garcia opened with his second single of the game. He advanced to second on a passed ball and to third on a fly ball by Russell. Drew Tate hit a triple past the center fielder to score Garcia. He then scored on a passed ball to give Milton a 4-0 lead.
“They are a young team and this is a big thing from them,” Walter said. “We were 2-16 last year. It was rough. When you win guys buy in and it’s just fun.”
NORTH BRANCH SEMIFINALS
MILTON 5, NORTHUMBERLAND 2
Northumberland`000`000`2 — 2-2-1
Milton`101`021`x — 5-10-2
Ross Wonsik and Colby Lehr. Noah Inch and Jake Girton.
WP: Inch. LP: Wonsik.
Northumberland: Kyle Leitzel, single; Chuck Schlegel, single.
Milton: Alex Garcia 2-for-3, 2 runs; Vinnie Bender 2-for-4, RBI; Drew Tate 2-for-3, triple, run, RBI.