MILTON -- If there's one thing that was made abundantly clear during the first-round Class AAAAAA state baseball playoff series between Brookwood and Milton is that every out -- and often every pitch -- matters.
That was definitely the case in the long-delayed third and deciding game of the series Tuesday night at Milton Field.
Down to their last strike, the host Eagles struck for Ryan Gridley's game-tying solo home run, and Dylan Cease added a two-out, two-strike RBI triple later in the seventh, as Milton rallied for a come-from-behind 4-3 win.
For the Broncos (16-13), it was a heart-breaking end to what was a thrilling series that saw the two teams split two extra-inning games Friday before rain delayed the decider three days.
"I'm just extremely proud of our kids," Brookwood coach Rick Howard said. "They showed a lot of character (Tuesday). They showed a lot of gumption.
"I feel horrible for our kids. ... You tip your hat (to Milton). Their kids stepped up in key situations. That's what you ask."
Jordan Dykes (2-3) also stepped up for Brookwood, throwing a complete game and giving up seven hits and three earned runs with four strikeouts.
Though the first six innings, Milton (21-7-1) only reached the senior left-hander for Dalton Ewing's RBI triple in the second and Alex Schnell's sacrifice fly, which scored an unearned run in the fourth that left the Eagles with a 2-0 lead.
But Brookwood finally got to Milton starter Matt Phillips in the bottom of the fifth.
Jonathan White reached on a one-out single and advanced to second on a throwing error on a pick-off attempt.
One out later, Alvaro Del Castillo sent a liner down the right-field line that just eluded a diving Schnell and went to the wall for an RBI triple that pulled the Broncos to within 2-1.
That hit ended the night for Phillips and brought on Schnell for a lefty-lefty matchup with Tre Lawrence.
But the move backfired when the Brookwood center fielder sent a swinging bunt down the third base line that stayed fair for an infield single, and brought home Del Castillo to tie the game at 2-all.
And the Broncos finally took the lead by taking advantage of some Milton miscues with two outs in the bottom of the sixth.
Robbie Pestorius hit a high chopper right in front of the plate, but reached and went to second when the throw sailed into right field.
A walk to Nick Fonseca and two wild pitches later, Brookwood had its first lead of the night at 3-2, and was suddenly just three outs away from advancing to the second round.
Dykes then quickly retired the first two Milton hitters in the top of the seventh, and got ahead of Gridley in the count 1-2.
But the Eagles' second baseman went down after a pitch low in the strike zone and golfed it over the 370-foot mark in left-center for his first homer of the season.
It was also the first home run hit by any team out of the spacious confines of Milton Field, and tied the game at 3-3.
"I felt like it was a pretty good pitch," Howard said. "But (Gridley) struck it well. ... One pitch. That's baseball. There's not a whole lot you can do about it."
But Milton wasn't done yet.
Erik Petersen worked Dykes for a walk before Cease sent another deep drive -- this time with a 2-2 count -- to the gap in left-center, this time one-hopping the wall for an RBI triple to put the Eagles back in front 4-3.
Brookwood tried to answer in the bottom of the inning, and it looked like Tre Lawrence might do just that by sending a sharp liner to left on a 3-2 pitch with two outs.
But Petersen hardly had to move to make the catch, and end an emotional series that saw many momentum swings.
"That's high school baseball, and that's the caliber of players and coaches in this part of the state," said Milton coach Joey Ray, a 1997 Brookwood graduate and former Bronco player, whose team advances to play Lambert in a second-round series beginning Thursday. "Brookwood did a fantastic job. ... They came over here expecting to win, and it was obvious in the way they play.
"I've never seen anything like that, were (both) teams refused to fold. At no time do I believe either team thought they had it won. It was definitely exciting."