The562’s high school baseball and softball coverage for the 2022 season is sponsored by LBUSD Board of Education Member Megan Kerr.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Wilson Athletics is sponsored by Joel Bitonio, Class of 2009.
Following last Friday’s epic nine-inning win over Lakewood, it looked like Millikan might be poised to run away with the Moore League baseball championship in 2022. But in the famous words of longtime College GameDay host Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend.”
The Wilson Bruins (15-9, 8-2) put on a nearly flawless defensive display on Thursday night in a 1-0 victory over the first-place Rams (17-6, 10-1), making the league title chase a little more interesting with a week of games left to play.
“One of the things that I told the kids yesterday is, in my 22 years here, nobody in the Moore League has run the table,” said Wilson head coach Andy Hall. “Nobody’s gone 12-0. So if we don’t play for anything else, we’ve gotta knock them off their perch. So that’s a little bit of a feather in our cap. But you’ve got to win one before you win the next one, and now we’re gonna try to make amends against Lakewood when we come back from break. And if we can do that, we’re at least second, maybe first if Poly can take care of business against (Millikan) too.”
Wilson’s victory snapped a nine-game winning streak for the Rams, and it was just the second time Millikan has been shut out this season. The Rams did have their chances to score, but hit into a pair of double plays in the first two innings and stranded eight runners on base in the game.
With ace Charlie Royle still battling a back injury, Wilson senior Drew Payares got the start and battled his way through five scoreless innings, scattering four hits and three walks. Millikan put multiple runners on base in each of the first two innings, but lined into a pair of double plays–one to Jake Fox at second, and one to Taylor Kirk at short, who elevated for an impressive catch on a ball that looked destined for the left centerfield gap.
“After the top of the second inning, we had a lot of energy going into the dugout,” Kirk said. “Iit was a big confidence boost for our pitchers when they can trust us out there and pitch to contact.”
The Bruins turned that momentum into a lead in the bottom half, as a walk by Kirk started a two-out rally from the bottom of the order. Fox followed up with a single into center, followed by an RBI knock back up the middle by Josh Jacobsen to plate Kirk for the game’s only run.
Kirk was again at the center of a clutch defensive play in the top of the fourth inning. Robert Voss opened the frame with a single, then got to second on a wild pitch. Myles Patton lined a single to left field, and Voss put on the brakes a little too late rounding third base. As he tried to scramble back to third, Aaron Mingo cut off the throw to the plate and got the ball to Kirk covering third for a huge first out. Instead of runners at the corners with no outs, the Rams had just one on with one out and would not score in the inning.
“It’s something we practice all the time, if there’s a play at home I’ve got to cover third in case that happens,” Kirk explained. “Aaron made a nice play getting me the ball and getting the out.”
Millikan threatened again in the sixth, loading the bases with two outs. Just like he did last week against Poly, Royle got warmed up in the bullpen and came in to try to get the Bruins out of a late-inning jam. Royle looked sharp and got a clutch strikeout to strand the bases loaded and keep his team in front.
“That was a tough situation to be put in,” Royle admitted. “Last game, I really wasn't nervous. And then this one, I kinda was a little nervous. But I just came in and threw strikes and it ended up working out.”
Royle got two more strikeouts in the seventh while working around a one-out single. He even recorded the final assist of the night as he fielded a comebacker and fired over to first base.
“Physically, I actually feel pretty good,” said Royle after the game. “The back really wasn't hurting that much. Obviously the adrenaline's kind of worn down now, so it's a little sore and tense. But the atmosphere out here was electric tonight. And it was super fun to go out there and be able to do that for my team and get a win over Millikan.”
Royle said he’s received an improved prognosis on his injury and hopes to be able to do more for his team down the stretch run. Hall said he’ll continue to be careful with the righthander.
“He's been to the doctor a couple times and gotten a couple of different diagnoses, and the best thing is to give him some rest,” said Hall on Royle’s availability. “It's better if we don't overuse him too much, but if the opportunity presents itself like it did tonight, like it did on Friday, then yeah, why not? I spoke to (Charlie’s) dad about it, his dad said if Charlie’s okay to do it, then let him do it. It worked out tonight, obviously.”
On the other side, Patton put up another impressive stat line on the mound for Millikan. The senior lefty was the tough-luck loser allowing one run on three hits and two walks across six innings pitched. He struck out 11 batters, fanning the side in two different innings.
The Rams know they’ve got a share of the league title in hand, but suddenly have two teams on their heels trying to join them. Millikan can fend off both Wilson and Lakewood with a win over Poly on April 27, once the teams return from LBUSD’s Spring Break.
That will be the final game of the regular season, following the Wilson/Lakewood rematch on Bohl Diamond at Blair Field. The Bruins and Lancers know they’ll be playing for at least second place, but will also be playing to preserve their title hopes until the very last pitch of the season.