Baseball: Clutch hits in seventh lift Putnam past rival Milwaukie, 4-3
When Putnam needed a couple clutch hits, Ozzy MacKenzie and Jayden Junta stepped up in the seventh inning Wednesday and delivered.
MacKenzie's pinch-hit single helped push home the tying run and Junta's one-out double scored MacKenzie with what proved to be the game-winning run as the Kingsmen rallied for a 4-3 Northwest Oregon Conference road win over Milwaukie.
Putnam reliever Tanner Drog retired Milwaukie in order in the seventh to help the Kingsmen (8-14, 4-9 NWOC) complete a two-game series sweep against the crosstown-rival Mustangs.
"That was a team win right there," Junta said. "We struggled a little bit in the beginning there, but came back and did a good job."
With the win, the Kingsmen moved a game ahead of Milwaukie (5-14, 3-10) in the race for fifth place and a play-in date with the No. 2 team from the Intermountain Conference.
"This win is big," Putnam coach Nick Cargni said. "It's big for confidence. It's big for our team. It keeps our playoff hopes alive, which is what it's all about.
"We're just trying to get to the playoffs and then if we can put it all together, I think we can play with anybody. Right now, it's about us getting to that point and seeing what we can do once we get there."
Trailing 3-1, Putnam scored a run in the sixth when Nick Geertsen drew a one-out walk off Milwaukie starter Kaden Middleton and scored on K.J. Ruffo's two-out single to center.
In the seventh, the Kingsmen scored the tying run after John Irish led off with a walk against Mustangs reliever Logan Killian. Irish then advanced to second on a passed ball, went to third on MacKenzie's pinch-hit single, and scored when the ball got past Milwaukie's left fielder for an error.
Junta, Putnam's freshman third baseman, then came to the plate and drove a 3-2 pitch from Killian into the gap in left-center for a double that scored MacKenzie with the go-ahead run.
"I wanted to be aggressive and was just looking for a pitch that I could hit," Junta said. "I didn't really feel that any of the first few pitches were ones I wanted to hit, so I just waited. At 3-2, I got a fastball right down the middle."
Really? Right down the middle?
"Pretty much," he said.
Milwaukie still had a chance with the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 batters coming up in the seventh, but Gage Cory grounded out to shortstop, Petersen Foulke struck out looking, and Middleton hit a game-ending pop up near third base that Punta misjudged and barely caught while falling backward in foul territory.
"This is a team that has come a long way since the beginning of the season," said Cargni, filling in as Putnam's head coach while Chad McGowan is on paternity leave. "When we were down 3-1, I knew we could battle back. We had plenty of time and the guys came through."
Putnam caught a break when Middleton's pitch count reached 107 -- three shy of the daily maximum for any high school pitcher -- and the Mustangs were forced to lift the junior right-hander, who had worked his way in and out of trouble for 5 2/3 innings and limited the damage to two runs on six hits with five walks and six strikeouts.
"Honestly, I don't like for any of our pitchers to go past 90 pitches, but Kaden's our guy and we just stuck with him," Mustangs coach Bud Taylor said. "He did a great job today. He was a little off the first few innings, which elevated his pitch count, but we stuck with him and we were right there.
"We've been playing better baseball of late, but we're also doing this a lot, getting into the later innings and not holding a lead."
Putnam starter Austin Hayes worked five innings and allowed three runs (one earned) on four hits while hitting one batter and striking out one.
Hayes, a freshman right-hander, was on the verge of getting out of the sixth inning with a 1-1 tie, but an error by Putnam's second baseman on a grounder hit by Foulke kept the inning alive.
With runners at first and second, Middleton drove the first pitch he saw from Hayes the opposite way down the right-field line for a double. Keith Doherty scored from second and Foulke came all the way around from first, sliding head-first to beat the tag in a bang-bang play at the plate to make it 3-1.
With four games left in the regular season, the Mustangs have a one-game lead over St. Helens in the race for sixth place and a play-in date with the No. 2 team from the Columbia River Conference.
"I still think we're improving," Taylor said. "We still have a chance. If we can sneak a win from Sandy and split with St. Helens, we might get in the back door, I'm hoping."