Miller baseball’s seniors know how to win. They’ve done it so many times.
“I think Ethan Murray has won over 100 and some games since he’s been here, it’d be close to that,” said Miller coach Billy Wagner.
Friday night, after a brief hiccup, those seniors helped Miller close again, wrapping up a 15-5 victory over Covenant in six innings to claim the VIC title.
“One thing this group has always brought is that they finish the game — they’ve been able to finish,” Wagner said. “They’ve gone out there and played and done what they needed to do.”
Murray knocked in three runs en route to earning All-VIC tournament honors including the RBI single that finished it off and made a critical double play in the top of the sixth ito get Miller out of a jam. Stu Barrett struck out five in just 3.1 innings. Adam Hackenberg went 2-for-3 with an RBI. Brent Rice went 2-for-3 with two RBI and a pair of runs scored.
Along with junior Ethan Chenault going yard as part of a 3-for-4 performance, Jack Marshall doubling twice, knocking in two runs and scoring twice as well as Jeremy Wagner hitting a double and posting an RBI, Miller had all the offense and enough pitching to close the deal and wrap up the conference championship. Miller’s seniors, a year after winning the program’s first state title in more than a decade, can turn their attention to trying to win another one with the VISAA D2 tournament starting Tuesday.
“I think they’re excited to get to that point because it has been a long season,” Wagner said. “You get to these last three games for these seniors and the writing is on the wall — what are you going to be remembered for. I think they’re excited, I think they’re tired and this weekend will be a good rest.”
The Mavericks appeared ready to close the game even earlier, but Covenant fought off a run-ruling, manufacturing a run in the top of the fifth when Declan Kent got caught in a rundown, allowing Mason Mitchell to race home from second base. Miller eventually righted things and Murray’s double play and RBI single in the sixth allowed the Mavericks to finish off the win.
The fight, however, that Covenant showed was particularly impressive because the Eagles’ small roster had already played a game earlier in the day.
Due to a postponement of the semifinals Thursday, Covenant had to battle Carlisle at Miller Friday early in the afternoon. They prevailed 4-2 over a team that beat the Eagles 10-0 just a week ago. Declan Kent got the job done on the mound for the Eagles with a gritty, 10-strikeout performance.
“That’s the most fight that we’ve seen all team, they fought their butts off,” said Covenant coach Chris Madison. “Honestly if it wasn’t for (Kent) we wouldn’t have made it to the championship game, he was lights out after the first inning. He only gave up two runs. He definitely lead the way.”
Kent allowed four hits and two first-inning runs, just one of them earned before giving way to Aaron Leathers for the final out. Kent also went 2-for-3 with an RBI that helped the Eagles rally out of that 2-0 hole to win 4-2.
The Eagles refused to go away against Miller too, bouncing back from a 13-1 deficit to scratch out those crucial runs and force Miller to play another inning. Marcus Bunch, who knocked in a run against Carlisle, had a triple and scored twice for the Eagles.
“He’s come on hot lately, struggled a little early in the season but he’s really helped us the last couple of weeks,” Madison said. “His speed kills and he definitely creates chaos on the bases.”
Covenant now awaits its fate as far as the VISAA field is concerned. The Eagles were tied for No. 9 in the latest poll and with an eight-team field right on the cusp of getting in. Friday’s performance certainly helped their cause, whether it will be enough remains to be seen.
Miller will likely be the No. 1 seed in the bracket, so if Covenant can wedge its way in at No.8, these two squads could be headed for a rematch next week.
All-VIC Tournament Team
Ethan Murray, Miller
Ethan Chenault, Miller
Jeremy Wagner, Miller
Adam Hackenberg, Miller
Declan Kent, Covenant
Mason Mitchell, Covenant
Jake Hoadley, Covenant
Tyler Nuckols, Carlisle
Garrett Kangas, Carlisle