Lake’s baseball playoff hopes in jeopardy after ‘Battle of the Bat’ loss to Milford

HARRINGTON – Typically when senior Dustin Reeder beats teams throwing to a catcher it’s from the mound.

With Milford leading “Battle of the Bat” rival Lake Forest just 2-1 in the bottom of the third inning Tuesday night in front of packed stands at the Harrington Little League Complex, he did it from right field.

Spartans junior Tyler Collins looked like he had tied the game with a linedrive to Reeder in right that leadoff hitter Jordan Simpson tagged-up on at third base. The Buccaneer, however, aligned himself perfectly for a catch-and-throw home and fired a strike to backstop Phillip Herber, who applied the inning-ending tag and preserved Milford’s one-run advantage.

Momentum on its side from there, Milford (8-5 overall, 6-4 Henlopen) scored nine more unanswered runs over the fourth and fifth innings for an 11-1 mercy rule-shortened victory that put the Buccaneers one conference win away from a Henlopen South championship and severely damaged Lake Forest’s playoff hopes.

After falling to Lake last season, Milford claimed the "Battle of the Bat" trophy for the first time. (The Journal/Jeff Mitchell)

After falling to Lake last season, Milford claimed the “Battle of the Bat” trophy for the first time. (The Journal/Jeff Mitchell)

“I was always taught to anticipate and want the ball, it makes you a better ballplayer,” Reeder said. “I knew he (Simpson) was going to try to go, so I setup and relaxed out there. The ball was hit to me and I just took advantage of it and threw him out.

“Honestly, I’m a senior this year and I had two goals,” Reeder added. “One making the state tournament and one beating Lake Forest. I don’t like Lake Forest very much and they don’t like us, it’s a rivalry and that’s how they go. We got it, so I’m happy.”

Milford’s offense gave winning pitcher Cole Davis some breathing room with a three-run top of the fourth.

Freshman Bryce Greenly walked to lead off the frame, advanced to second on a wild pitch and then crossed when eight-hole hitter Shawn Snowden lashed a single to left.

Snowden, who moved to second on a passed ball and took third on a ground ball to the right side of the field, looked like he would be the inning’s second out when he took off for home on junior Tommy Jordan’s grounder. But the Buccaneer made it safely back to the third base bag and then later scored on Abraham Mow’s sacrifice fly, making it 4-1.

Reeder followed with a hard groundball to third that was mishandled, allowing Jordan to cross and cap the rally.

“It’s about time,” Milford head coach Nick Brannan said regarding his team catching some breaks thanks to multiple Lake Forest miscues throughout the game. “Every game we’ve been in (recently), it hasn’t gone our way. These boys deserved a little bit of good luck tonight, and we won’t be ashamed about it.”

Looking to close the four-run gap in its half of the fourth Lake (7-6, 4-6) had runners on first and second with no outs, but Davis worked for a pair of strikeouts before walking Spartans junior Dillon Cole to load the bases. Then the Bucs senior got Spartans junior Eric Berardicelli swinging to end the threat.

“You just have to execute pitches, forget about the runners,” Davis said. “My mechanics were a little off at the beginning but by about the third inning I got in a rhythm.”

Back at the bat-rack, Milford broke the game open with six more runs in the top of the fifth when the Bucs sent 11 men to the plate and took advantage of several Lake mistakes. Greenly had a RBI single during the outburst and sophomore William Kimmel pushed a run across with a sacrifice fly.

Davis, with Milford leading by 10, then retired the Spartans in order in the bottom of the inning to end the game early.

Three conference games, including away bouts versus Caesar Rodney on Thursday and Sussex Tech Friday, remain for Milford. The Bucs finish conference play Tuesday, 4:15 p.m., at home against Laurel.

If Milford, which now holds at least a two-game loss column lead plus a tiebreaker over the other South teams, wins any of those three contests it is division champion and earns an automatic playoff berth.

“All it’s going to take is for us to keep playing how we are,” Reeder said. “If we stick together we’re a great team and I think teams have to look out for us. We’re definitely coming up and surprising people.”

The Spartans, meanwhile, have five games remaining on their regular season schedule. To reach the postseason for the first time since 1998 they will likely have to win them all, head coach Corey Wyatt said.

“We’re 7-6 right now, and my goal is to finish 12-6,” he said. “I think 12-6 will get us in (to the playoffs as an at-large team), but 11-7 I think we’re done. I think we’re a good baseball team, we just haven’t played that way the last two weeks. Hopefully we can get it together. We’ve got to find a way.”

Lake is scheduled to be at Indian River Thursday and nonconference St. Thomas More on Friday. The Spartans’ biggest test of their five remaining games is slated for Tuesday when they are at Dover.

Editor’s note: This was the second annual “Battle of the Bat” game between the two rivals. The winner is awarded a trophy bat that is half Lake Forest colors, half Milford’s. Lake held the trophy last season after defeating Milford 12-8.

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