Blaylock, McNicholas help Midland advance in the loser's bracket
FARMINGTON — The 13-time Connie Mack World Series champion Midland Redskins weren't about to pack their bags just three days into this year's tournament.
Great pitching and timely hitting — including three RBIs from Austin McNicholas — allowed Midland to oust Top Tier 7-0 in tonight's Game 9 at Ricketts Park. The loss eliminated Top Tier, of Chicago, from the series.
Cincinnati's Midland team suffered a thrilling, extra-inning defeat on Saturday at the hands of the defending series champion East Cobb Yankees. Coach Dave Evans said the Redskin players were still upset over the loss this morning, but they were far from apprehensive by game time.
"Some guys were down in the dumps this morning, but we had a little workout, talked to them about how important this one was and said, 'Hey, this is it, man. You win or you gotta go home,'" Evans said. "They came in with a great attitude, and we were ready to play tonight."
Matt Harrison got things going for Midland (1-1) with a solo home run to left field on the first pitch of the second inning. His team tacked on another run an inning later when a Top Tier fielding error put Luke Waddell on second base before McNicholas drove him home with a single.
When they traded in their gloves for bats and tried to mount some offense, Top Tier was stifled by Midland starting pitcher Isaiah Blaylock. He wasn't flashy or overpowering, but Blaylock refused to let coach Steve Libman's Top Tier team ignite a single rally.
Top Tier (0-2) got the barrels of their bats on balls a lot more often than they did in Saturday's loss to the Connecticut Bombers, but four total runs in two games weren't enough to keep Top Tier in Farmington.
"We hit a lot of balls solid, we hit them right to some guys," Libman said. "Their pitcher played a good game, we got runners on base, but when it came time to get that big hit to put us over the hump, we didn't do it."
Blaylock threw 94 pitches in 6.1 innings before being pulled from the game. He whiffed three Top Tier batters and didn't allow a single one of them to reach third base. Evans said Blaylock's command makes it tough for opposing hitters to touch him.
"He throws four different pitches, and he can throw any of them at any time," Evans said. "He was fabulous tonight."
Blaylock said his fastball — which topped out at about 90 miles per hour — and his slider held the Top Tier hitters at bay.
"I was just trying to hit my spots and locate. My catcher did a good job getting me locked in on the mitt and focused," Blaylock said. "I was trying to hit my spots and get ground balls."
Blaylock coaxed Top Tier into eight ground-ball outs in the game.
McNicholas padded Midland's lead with a one-out, two-RBI single down the left-field line in the fifth, plating Waddell and Matt Burch. That would be more than enough run support for Blaylock, but Midland didn't feel like mailing it in, adding three more runs in the top of the seventh. Cal Conley and Waddell were in the middle of that late-game offensive surge, registering an RBI double apiece.
Hunter Sexton pitched the final 0.2 innings and earned the save for Midland, which will play the loser of Monday's Strike Zone vs. EnFuego Elite Game 11 at noon on Tuesday at Ricketts Park.
Top Tier starting pitcher Mark DiLuia took the loss, but flashed some of the stuff that convinced the University of Maryland to bring him aboard, striking out three Midland hitters and allowing three earned runs in his 4.1 innings of work.
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.
Leading hitters: Austin McNicholas, 2 for 4, 3 RBIs. Luke Waddell, 1 for 2, RBI, 2 BB, 2 R
WP: Isaiah Blaylock
SV: Hunter Sexton
Leading hitters: Kellen Sarver, 2 BB
LP: Mark DiLuia