Even after sweeping the season series from Page Brake, the Miller Toyota fastpitch softball team knew better than to expect an easy time Saturday in a best-of-three playoff to determine the region's entrant in the ASA major nationals.
Sure enough, Miller had to go three games and come from behind for both victories to earn the trip to the Sept. 9-17 tournament in Bloomington, Ill. Miller won 4-3 in Game 1, lost 5-3 in Game 2 and won 4-2 in Game 3."With these guys, you never know," Miller Manager Butch Latey sighed afterward. "It doesn't matter who they put on the field; it's a bitter rivalry and everybody plays tough."
With a youth-rebuilt team, Page improved all year and finished ahead of Miller in the recent ISC World Tournament. Saturday, Page had a 3-0 lead through in the fourth inning of Game 1, but Miller fought back and Lance Pratt scored from third with the winning run on Randy Ward's infield dribbler in the sixth inning.
Pitcher Rich Connolly, picked up from IET, pitched Page to the Game 2 victory, working out of a bases-loaded situation in the seventh inning. That forced Game 3, and Page appeared on its way when the first three hitters reached base - without hitting the ball out of the infield - and Neal Chadwick lined a two-run single.
Latey immediately went to Brendan Keehan in relief of Vaughn Alvey, and Keehan - the former Page pitcher - came through in a big way. He retired 19 of the 21 batters he faced, giving up two hits while striking out six, to keep Miller in the game.
Keehan had pitched shakily in Game 1 and Latey decided to open with Alvey, who'd finished Game 2. But Alvey caused himself trouble on two fielding plays in the first inning, leading to the 2-0 deficit. That created a jam for Keehan, who actually liked the assignment.
"To a lot of people, it's a pressure situation - to me, it's a challenge, and that's what I enjoy about this game," the New Zealander said. "I felt relaxed because I knew we were going to score. All I had to do was contain them."
Miller earned a 2-2 tie in the second inning when Joe Nicholls lined a single to right field to score one run, and Gary Cleverly came home when Nicholls was caught in a rundown between first and second. Miller manufactured two more runs in the third, with Mark Burrup walking and later scoring on a dropped third strike with two out and Cleverly adding an RBI single.
Connolly matched Keehan after that, but Miller still gained a seventh straight trip to the nationals.