BUSSEY — The Colfax-Mingo baseball team won 23 games combined from 2014-16. During that stretch, the Tigerhawks lost 63 games.
Colfax-Mingo baseball coach Greer Milledge has seen every one of the losses.
“They are tired of losing. These guys have lost a lot of games in the four years that I have been here,” said Milledge, who spent the first two seasons as an assistant to his older brother Seth. “We got better last year. These guys are tired of it. They have worked their butts off to get to this point. They never give up. They never stop fighting.”
The incredible turnaround continued Saturday. The Tigerhawks won their 19th game of the season when they scratched out a 3-2, nine-inning win over top-seeded Moravia in the Class 1A District 11 title game.
Freshman Brady Berkey hit an RBI fielder’s choice ground ball with the bases loaded to give the Tigerhawks a lead in the top of the ninth inning, and then junior Alex Lewis finished off the win with back-to-back strikeouts in the bottom half of the frame.
Lewis, who was fully recovered from an illness he played through two nights earlier, earned the win on the mound after allowing no runs on one hit with nine strikeouts, four walks and one hit batter.
The Tigerhawk junior cleaned up a fourth-inning mess with a strikeout to end the inning, and then he struck out seven Mohawks in the final three innings to complete the victory.
“I feel 100 percent better. I had my skittles and I felt great,” said Lewis, who improved to 4-1. “I knew we were the better team tonight. I just tried to do what I could to keep the season alive for our seniors. We are going up to 2A next year so this is the year for us to get to state. I did what I had to do to help us win.”
The Tigerhawks are now one win away from their first state tournament berth since 2001. Colfax-Mingo plays third-ranked Martensdale-St. Mary’s (38-4) at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Knoxville.
“I know that they know they had a good year, but anything short of the state tournament to them isn’t going to be good enough this year,” Milledge said. “They have wanted the state tournament from day one. They’ll be upset if they don’t make it.”
Several key plays helped the Tigerhawks (19-5) clinch the district title Saturday.
Junior Misha Seebeck’s two-run double with one out in the first gave the Tigerhawks an early lead. He drove in senior Jimmy Camp and sophomore Zarek Hill, who reached on a hit by a pitch and a walk, respectively.
Seebeck then snagged a line drive at first base in the second inning and threw over to Lewis at second base for the double play.
Hill erased three base runners himself when he delivered on-the-money throws to second to retire attempted stealers. His caught stealing throw in the sixth retired the side and then another caught stealing throw erased another base runner in the top of the ninth following a lead-off walk.
“I don’t have a problem with people trying to steal on me,” Hill said. “I like to prove them wrong, but I also am just trying to put my team in a position to win.
“I was surprised they tried to steal the second time, but they had a bunt called. He just missed the bunt I think.”
Each team had only five hits apiece, but they both had chances to blow the game open.
The Tigerhawks had the bases loaded with two outs in the second but didn’t score. They left two more on the bases in eighth. Both times, Colfax-Mingo struck out at the plate.
In the ninth, junior Jonathan Jacobs led off with an infield single and then freshman Trystin Ross walked. Lewis’ attempted sacrifice bunt resulted in an error that loaded the bases for Colfax-Mingo.
Relief Hunter Arbogast attempted to get the lead runner at third on the play. His throw forced third basemen Griffin Cosgrove to come off the bag. The umpire called Jacobs safe on the close play. Jacobs scored the winning run one batter later when Berkey hit a ground ball between first and second base.
Jacobs beat Cason Butz’s throw to the plate to put the Tigerhawks up 3-2. Colfax-Mingo stranded two runners on base in the inning and left eight runners on for the game.
“We never give up. We used to just roll over when we got down in the past,” Hill said. “We never got down tonight, but we didn’t give up either.”
Moravia ace pitcher Mateo Varese pitched into the eighth inning, but he had to be taken out with two outs because of the new pitch count rules.
It looked like Colfax-Mingo was going to get Varese out of the game much earlier. The Tigerhawks got him to throw 70 pitches through four innings, but he settled down eventually and gave the Mohawks (22-8) a chance to win before extra innings.
“We worked him a lot in the first three innings. But then he started coming and settling in. That scared me a little bit,” Milledge said. “We were taking in that last inning just to make sure they had to pull him out. Once we got him out of the game, we felt like we had a good chance to win.”
Jake Martin was called on to finish the eighth inning. After struggling to throw a strike in warm-ups, Martin allowed an infield single to Hill and a walk to Seebeck with two outs. But he struck out senior Adam Teed to end the threat.
Martin (0-2) took the loss though after leaving the game with two runners on base and no outs in the top of the ninth.
“We have the mentality that no one can beat us,” Lewis said. “We really do feel like we are one of the best teams in the state. That mentality has worked so far.”
Jacobs started on the mound but took the no decision after Milledge pulled him out in the fourth after 63 pitches. He allowed two runs — one earned —on four hits with two strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings.
“We made a collective decision as coaches to pull him and save him for Tuesday night,” Milledge said. “I thought he would have been fine to keep going, but we need either him or Alex to be able to pitch.
“Alex hasn’t had the statistics this year until recently, but I have confidence in him. He has been huge for us in the postseason.”
Moravia came within one run in the third when the bottom of the order led off with a double and a single that produced one run. In the fourth, Moravia got another double in the fourth. The Mohawks tied the game after Colfax-Mingo made a two-out error on a deep fly ball to center field.
The Mohawks didn’t much more in the game against Lewis, who walked one in the fifth, loaded the bases with two walks and a hit by pitch in the sixth and then surrendered a lead-off walk in the ninth.
“It’s great to be still playing. The girls get to play at state and now we get our chance to play there Tuesday,” Lewis said. “It should be fun.”
The Tigerhawks take a five-game winning streak into the game. Martensdale-St. Marys has won three straight and nine of its last 11 games.
“I have chills thinking about it. It’s a great feeling to be a part of this team,” Hill said.
Milledge said a key for the Tigerhawks to beat the Blue Devils and advance to their first state baseball tournament will come at the plate.
“Our hitting is the key. We have to put the ball in play and make them make a play. It’s baseball. There are errors all the time,” Milledge said. “We had two or three tonight that we don’t normally make. We need to make them make mistakes and then capitalize on those mistakes, capitalize on a good fastballs to hit and stay ahead in the counts. We just have to work the counts and play solid defense, and I think we’ll have a good shot.”
Seebeck had two hits, two RBIs and a walk to lead the Tigerhawk offense against Moravia, the champions of the Bluegrass Conference. Hill singled, walked once and scored a run and Camp was hit twice by pitches and scored a run.
Camp now has been hit by 18 pitches this season, which ranks tied for second in 1A.
Junior Jarod Nichols missed his second straight game because of an ankle injury suffered in a weekend basketball game. He is expected to miss three to four months.