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June 03, 2013MILTON, Ga. – Led consistently by outstanding performances by its pitching staff, Milton finished first in Region 5-AAAAAA and went into the state playoffs with realistic hopes of making a serious run at a title.
In the second game of their playoff opener against Brookwood, the Eagles were within one pitch of being eliminated without winning a game.
Junior left-hander Alex Schnell was on the mound with that game on the line and got out of a bases-loaded jam to keep the Eagles alive. Milton went on to win 2-1 in 10 innings and took the third game 4-3 with a late comeback to narrowly advance.
The Eagles easily swept their next two series before needing three games to get past Parkview and Roswell. Milton lost the first game both times, but responded with a string of superb efforts by the pitching staff, resulting in the team's first state baseball title since 2004.
In 14 region games, the Eagles allowed just 25 runs, going 12-2 with losses by scores of 3-1 and 2-1. In 13 playoff games, Milton yielded 27 runs, never more than four in a game. The Eagles were 10-3 in the postseason, losing only when they were shut out.
Milton averaged nine runs in six wins against Lambert, East Coweta and Parkview. But all three games against Roswell in the championship series were taut battles, with the Eagles surviving despite scoring a total of just seven runs, five in their Game 2 victory.
"We would not be where we are without our pitchers," Milton coach Eddie Ray said after the Eagles' 2-1 win in eight innings over Roswell in the deciding game.
"They did a phenomenal job. All of them were chomping at the bit to get out there and wanted the ball."
Payton Smith, Dylan Cease and Schnell turned in a series of clutch efforts on the mound, with Schnell coming through twice in dire situations.
After losing 3-0 in nine innings in the series opener against Brookwood, the Eagles were on the verge of being swept. Alec Cease tied the second game 1-1 in the seventh on a run-scoring double, and Jack Thompson's double in the 10th drove in the game winner.
In between, Schnell faced a bases-loaded situation with a 3-2 count, but wriggled out of the jam, enabling the Eagles to pull out the win.
"Those were the biggest pitches of the whole year," Ray said.
Milton advanced with a 4-3 victory over the Broncos, with Ryan Gridley tying the game with a late home run and Dylan Cease ripping a game-winning triple. Starting pitcher Matt Phillips and reliever Will Jackson kept Brookwood in check.
Smith and Dylan Cease got plenty of offensive support in the series against Lambert and East Coweta, with Cease and Schnell getting more runs than they needed in 10-1 and 10-0 wins over Parkview after the Eagles were shut out in the opener.
The Eagles were again held scoreless in the opener against Roswell, with Smith losing despite a terrific performance. Smith began his high school career at Roswell and was the winning pitcher in one of Milton's two regular season victories over the Hornets.
After Cease won his fourth straight Game 2 playoff start, Schnell got the ball for a second Game 3, and responded just as he had all year.
Schnell won seven games in the season, with the Eagles yielding a total of two runs in the seven wins. The run Schnell allowed against Roswell, which was unearned, was the only one he allowed in his seven victories.
Thanks to a deep pitching staff, Ray did not have to tax his primary starters with a heavy workload early in the season, Schnell a main beneficiary.
"He was fresh." Ray said of the junior lefty. "He did not pitch as many innings as he might have wanted, but when we needed him, he was ready."
The Eagles lose some key senior starters, but return even more front line juniors. Among the seniors are pitchers Smith, Phillips and Jackson, left-fielder Sean Ryan Brophy and catcher Nick Bradshaw.
Among those returning are the Cease twins, with Dylan starting at shortstop when he wasn't pitching. Also back are first baseman Thompson, second baseman Gridley, third baseman Dalon Farkas and outfielders Dalton Ewing, Erik Peterson and Schnell, who will give the team a dominating 1-2 pitching duo along with Dylan Cease.