By REID TUCKER
Paxton’s run to its fifth consecutive District 1- A baseball title culminated in a dramatic sixth-inning, 12-2 shutdown of upstart contenders, the Milton Central Jaguars.
The Jaguars (11-12) jumped to an early 2-0 lead on Thursday, April 28, forcing Paxton (19-3) to wade through three-and-a-half innings with only two hits to its credit. However, the fact that both Bobcat hits were homeruns crushed out of the park by third baseman Mason McCormick portended the game’s scorching final outcome. Central would score no more runs in the duration of the contest.
McCormick was positively on fire at the plate, as, in addition to his two homers, he went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a walk, crossing home plate in all four at-bats. The junior third baseman is only in his first season as a starter and his second year playing varsity but has already established himself as one of the Bobcats’ premier hitters with a .572 average in the 2011 season. Though he said he “really felt” the second home run was coming, the first one and all subsequent at-bats were matters of patience.
“I was just going be patient and take my pitch,” McCormick said. “That’s what we say at practice all the time.”
Senior pitcher Josh McLaney continued to be lights-out from the mound, striking out 10 batters while giving up just two hits and two walks on his way to notching the win. Central, on the other hand, expended three pitchers trying to stave off the Bobcats. Justin Abel had four Ks to show for four innings of work but gave up six hits in that time, while neither T.J. Beasley nor Wendall Cooley managed another strikeout in the remaining innings.
The Bobcat offense positively took over as they poured on two go-ahead runs in the fourth.
Forest Wibbing’s two-RBI single brought home Dustin Geohagan and Ryan Gilbert. Paxton made use of RBIs in the fifth inning to add four more runs as Gilbert (3-for-4 on the night with two runs scored) reached on a bunt to score Marcus Bradley, McLaney (two RBIs) brought McCormick home and Geohagan (2-for-4, one run) drove in Zach Forehand. A.J. Neale hit one through the legs of Central first basemen Nick Waters to bring Gilbert around for an 8-2 Paxton lead.
The Bobcats weren’t satisfied to cruise to a win either, as they accrued four more runs in the sixth. Geohagan smashed one to right field for a brace of RBIs, allowing Paxton to 10-run-rule the Jaguars.
Though Paxton ended the game against Central in dominant fashion, the quarterfinal contest against Bethlehem (Wildcats) was too close for comfort. As the defending champ, Paxton had a first-round bye and played Bethlehem two days prior to facing Central. Though the Bobcats run-ruled the Wildcats in their last five meetings, the game quickly turned into a nail-biter as Bethlehem climbed back from a 9-2 deficit in the fifth inning to nearly take a go-ahead run in the top of the seventh.
Forehand, who handled duties on the mound during the quarterfinals matchup, struck out 10 batters but gave up an equal number of hits and had five walks. His counterparts, Jeremy Hollobough and Colby Mathews, struck out a combined nine Paxton batters and also gave up nine hits. Paxton had six fielding errors, one more than the Wildcats, and only a spectacular double play at the plate saved the Bobcats and gave them the 9-8 win.
Paxton coach Jeff Bradley said team unity was what ultimately enabled the Bobcats to claim yet another follow-up district championship. He said the title-winning victory, which capped off a dominant regular season, is proof of how the team came together after six senior starters graduated last season.
“There’s none of that drama (between team mates), nobody’s a pain in the tail; it’s just a great group of kids,” Bradley said. “This is one group of kids I will remember forever.”
McCormick, still reeling from the win, summed up the experience in simpler terms.
“This isn’t too bad at all,” he said, grinning.