HAMILTON — Due to an injury, Hamilton High School’s Alex Mills wasn’t able to start the Big Blue’s Division I sectional baseball opener against visiting Loveland on Tuesday.
But boy oh boy, did the junior come on and finish it.
Mills came on in relief and not only earned the win, but the right-hander also knocked in the winning run, singling home Jackson Lewis in the bottom of the eighth inning as HHS celebrated a 3-2 win on a sun-splashed day at Stang Field.
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When asked if the day could get any better, Mills didn’t hesitate, “No, not really. It was exciting.”
Mills pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning and stranded a runner at second in the eighth.
With one out in the bottom of the eighth, Lewis drew a walk, advancing to second on a Payton Pennington (hit, two walks, two stolen bases, run scored) single. Lewis advanced to third on a Kurtis Reid fly out.
Mills said he didn’t feel pressure in his at-bat. Hamilton’s leading hitter calmly stroked a 1-1 pitch down the left-field line, setting off a wild celebration in the middle of the field.
“Man, it was crazy,” Mills said. “I was just trying to stay calm, keep it all together and make contact, drive something and win the game.”
HHS coach Joe Lewis admitted it’s been a struggle this year with such a young team. The Big Blue (12-13) have 15 sophomores on the varsity, with Pennington the lone senior.
“I am proud of them today,” Lewis said. “To fall down like that early in the game and to be able to come back and answer pretty quickly was big. We had some adversity, stayed true to the task at hand and didn’t let it ruin us. We kept plugging away, and we were able to get a win.”
Lewis said he wasn’t sure Mills could throw at all after suffering an injury last week against West Clermont, but was overjoyed at the way he was able to close the door for the Big Blue late.
“Both offensively and throwing the ball, he was solid,” Lewis said. “He hasn’t been able to do anything with his injury since last Wednesday, so it was good to have him back.”
Sophomore Jayden Mudd started for Hamilton and pitched well, yielding eight hits and two runs while striking out three.
“He has been solid all year for us,” Lewis said. “You look at him and you are not, ‘Wow, what a physical specimen.’ You watch him throw and you are not like, ‘Wow, what an electric arm.’ But he throws strikes, and he throws multiple pitch strikes.”
Mudd was excellent in the fifth inning. A single and walk had Loveland threatening, but Mudd was able to strike out the side, including the meat of the order to keep the game tied.
“He has competed all year,” said Lewis, adding that Mudd came out due to throwing 108 pitches. “He has done a fabulous job all year and did again tonight.”
The Big Blue fell behind 2-0 in the second inning before rallying to tie the game on Reid’s two-run single in the third.
Loveland pitcher Zach Segal pitched an excellent game as well. The University of Cincinnati commit tossed seven complete innings, allowing no earned runs while striking out six.
Hamilton, the No. 18 seed, travels to eighth-seeded La Salle on Thursday at 5 p.m. No. 20 Loveland finished 10-15.
“We are young and we make mistakes, but I enjoy this group,” Lewis said. “I am excited for the group and really just excited to play another game.”
WP — Alex Mills (3-3); LP — Zach Segal (3-4). Records: L 10-15, H 12-13
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