Miller was coming off a 1-run loss to Hargrave heading into its first round meeting with Blue Ridge in the VIC quarterfinals, so there was a bit of bite to the host’s approach on Tuesday. And while the Barons have worked on rebuilding their program and have seen a great deal of progress compared to years past, this was a case of two programs in two different modes — Blue Ridge finishing up its season and Miller looking to tune up before trying to embark on a third straight run to the state championship game. The Mavericks were able to work on things offensively while also working in a number of players in their 15-1 over the Barons. But perhaps the brightest part, the bottom of their order carried the load offensively in the five inning run ruling.
“It’s senior day so you’re there trying to enjoy that but also trying to jump out and get a lead to have that leeway,” said Miller coach Billy Wagner. “It’s a good tuneup and we’ve got our hands full going forward. We haven’t played a lot of good baseball (recently) so we’ve got to keep working.”
Of the 15 Mavericks runs scored, nine RBI came from the 5-through-9 hitters and nine of the runs scored where from those same five players.
Miller took a 4-0 lead to start the contest in the bottom of the first with Connor Gillespie’s RBI single and Johnny Wood’s RBI triple coming after a pair of small-ball and error ridden runs coming just before. The Mavericks were aggressive all game on the base path with Rivers Spence earning a walk to start the second only to score after a steal and an error to make it 5-1. Six more runners came across the plate in the bottom of the third as Miller hit through the order with a sac-fly from Wood, a 2-run triple from Carson Atkins, an RBI single from Spence and a 2-run double from Jacob Gavin pacing the the rally.
“The main thing was staying back and driving the ball up the middle, the opposite way and getting on base,” Wood said. “That’s probably the biggest reason we won. A lot of us in the bottom of the lineup struggled yesterday but came out today and drove the ball, hit it solid.”
In the fourth, the Mavericks got an RBI single from Wood, and RBI single from Spence and an RBI double from Will Wagner.
On the mound, Miller pitcher Bryce Whitehurst went the distance, throwing five innings, giving up just one run, four hits and walk and striking out seven batters.
“Bryce had some struggles early but started throwing to contact to the next inning,” said Wood, his catcher. “By the end of the game he had movement on his fastball, good command of his fastball. I think he just needed to warm up. He settled down and pulled through.”
Blue Ridge loaded the bases in the first inning with singles from Elliot Appleman and Jaden Frazier and a batter hit by a pitch. Whitehurst worked out of the inning with a the first of his strikeouts and a tapper back to him which ended the inning on his throw to first.
The Barons earned their run in the second when Josh Toshton reached on an error. After a single by Josh Colon, Crocker Fuller came up with an RBI single.
On the day, Wood went 2-for-3 with three RBI and two runs scored. Gavin was 2-for-3 with a two RBI and a run scored. Gillespie was 2-for-3 with two runs scored. Spence finished 2-for-3 with two RBI and three runs scored. Will Wagner was also 2-for-3 with an RBI and run scored.
“We have the talent to go up the middle, the opposite way but we’ve just been a little pull-happy (before today),” Wagner said. “It’s been a problem most of the year, leaving too much up to the middle of the order. Today was a good day and hopefully we knocked the rust off and we’ll get some consistency going forward.”
The Mavericks will host their VIC semifinal on Thursday against Norman.