Pioneers Edge Colonels In Baseball, 3-2

Posted: May 9, 2015
By ROBERT NIEDZWIECKI
The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — If you see one person lying on the ground and a bunch of others standing around looking at him, the natural inclination for a lot of people would be to stop and wonder why nothing’s going on.

In case it isn’t already obvious, Alex Amos isn’t like most people.

The area’s best when it comes to batting (.469 batting average) and pitching (0.26 ERA in 27 innings) showed he’s got some pretty good baserunning instincts as well Friday night with the score tied in the bottom of the seventh inning.

With James Wood shortstop Joel Smith on the ground near second base after Millbrook’s Ryan Hartigan slid into him to successfully break up a potential ground-ball double play, Amos realized James Wood was focused on Smith and not on him, and that the play was not finished.

Amos sprinted home without James Wood making any attempt to throw the ball, and when he crossed home plate Millbrook had a crucial — and bizarre — 3-2 Conference 21 and Northwestern District win over the Colonels.

Millbrook (14-1 overall, 5-0 Northwestern) moved to 5-1 in Conference 21, a full game in front of 4-2 James Wood, which is 9-7 overall and 2-5 in the district. The Pioneers are also a half game in front of 4-1 Woodgrove in Conference 21, though the Wolverines own the tiebreaker with the Pioneers.

“When I saw him on the ground, I didn’t think he was hurt,” said Amos, a shortstop who has verbally committed to the University of Pittsburgh. “I just figured it was time for me to get in and score the final run. I’m going to run until I hear [an umpire call] time. Because if time’s in, I can take the chance. If time’s out, the only thing that happens is I have to go back to third.”

And when you have Amos’s speed, there’s no reason not to take chances.

Amos (16 stolen bases) stole second in the first inning (and avoided being picked off at second in the same inning after running back and forth between second and third four times during a rundown). He started things off in the seventh with a walk before stealing second.

With one out and Amos on second, James Wood decided to intentionally walk Hartigan, bringing up Burgreen. Kris Malsch (1-1), who came on in the sixth as James Wood’s third pitcher of the game, got Burgreen to ground to second.

Barber flipped to Smith at second. After tapping the bag Smith’s momentum toward first took him directly toward Hartigan, whose hard, straight-in slide sent Smith to the dirt. Though it was definitely hard contact, the umpires’ decision not to stop play indicates that they felt he was not shaken up severely, and Amos took advantage.

Amos (2 for 3 with a double and two stolen bases) said anyone in his situation would have done the same thing, but Millbrook coach Brian Burke gave him a lot of credit.

“We had a good runner on second [in Amos] with a high baseball IQ,” Burke said. “He was aware of the situation and came on home.

“[A play like that] isn’t something that you practice. Through game experience, sooner or later you’re going to see a situation where you read and react. I feel like we’ve got a lot of guys on the team that have high baseball IQs. Alex did a great job looking, seeing the situation, and never giving up on the play.”

Hartigan was well aware of his situation, too. He took as big of a lead as he could during Burgreen’s at-bat because he knew a double play could end the game, and when the ball was hit he tried to get to second as fast as he could. That put him in a situation where he was able to slide.

“He came through [the bag], and I was sliding through [the bag], and he just got hit,” Hartigan said. “I don’t mean to hurt anybody. If you go straight through the bag and someone’s in your way, [contact] happens.”

Burke said Hartigan’s play was just as important as anything else that happened on Friday.

Millbrook benefited from a solo home run from Conor Hartigan in the fourth inning and received two huge plays from sophomore catcher Kyle Keenan. Keenan drove in the run that tied the game at 2 with a ground single to right with two outs in the sixth, then threw out Brady Hepner trying to steal in the seventh after Zach Thompson had swung through strike three on a delivery from reliever Trey Braithwaite (4-0, no runs and no hits allowed while striking out three in two innings).

While it was a thrilling ending for Millbrook, it was anything but for James Wood. When asked if he felt the game should have been stopped when Smith stayed on the ground after taking the hard hit, James Wood coach Brent Lockhart said he did not want to comment on the situation. He also did not comment as to whether he received an explanation from the umpires.

James Wood played a strong game to get to that point. Because of inning rules starting pitcher Bryan Whitacre was only allowed to pitch three innings after throwing Monday against Dominion (he allowed just two hits and no walks and struck out four) and Smith made the Colonel fans roar with his two-run single in the sixth inning that put James Wood up 2-1.

“Whitacre gives us a great chance to win every time he’s on the mound,” he said. “We did what we could, but Millbrook got some great pitching performances, and they deserved to win the game.”

The Pioneers’ win on Friday was their eighth by two runs or fewer. That might not be the ideal way to win, but it says a lot about a team that’s trying to return to the Group 4A state title game this year.

“When it comes down to the wire, our team really goes all out,” Ryan Hartigan said. “Whatever it takes.”

Michael Tinsman went 2 for 2 with a walk for Millbrook, and starter Colin Benner pitched five shutout innings before being touched for two in the sixth. He gave up five hits, walked five and struck out eight.

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Follow on Twitter @WinStarSports1