Mountain View’s Josh Logan (7) connects for a single in Friday’s game against Duluth. Catcher Jose Ponce (17) waits for the pitch. (Photo: Craig Cappy)
LAWRENCEVILLE — Midway through its regular season finale against Duluth, word had already filtered to Mountain View’s dugout that the Bears had already secured the top playoff seed from Region 7-AAAAAA thanks to a Mill Creek loss just up the road.
But the Bears still wanted to finish the drill and put their name on the region trophy by itself.
And thanks to a trio of pitchers, solid defense and some aggressive baserunning, they did just that in holding off the Wildcats for a 2-1 home win Friday night to secure the program’s first region title in just its fifth year of existence.
“We were debating all day if (the coaching staff) knew (the Mill Creek final), do we tell the guys or just keep it to ourselves,” Mountain View head coach Jason Johnson said. “We had some parents who were watching it (via text messages), and we didn’t really want to tell the guys. We wanted to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.
“Obviously, Mill Creek’s an amazing program. Just to have an opportunity for it to come down between us and Mill Creek in the end, is amazing. … But anytime you win something like this, you want to win it outright. And we were very blessed that it worked out that way. There are no tie-breakers. It’s nice to see our name on top by ourself.”
A strong effort from starter Matt Hubbard (5-1) and relievers Crew Peery and Ben Utley helped the Bears (22-4, 13-3) earn that honor by limiting Duluth (6-20, 4-12) to just three hits and one run over seven innings and combining to strike out 12 hitters.
But Wildcats starter Alan Carter (3-5) was almost as good, scattering five hits and two runs — only one earned — with five strikeouts over five innings.
Baserunning was the key to each team’s sole offensive outburst of the evening in consecutive half-innings early in the game.
It looked like Mountain View might be in line for a big inning when Zach Miller legged out an infield single to lead off the bottom of the second before Robert Kwiatkowski lined a double just inside the foul line into the right-field corner.
But Nick Covey quickly retrieved the ball and fired to Graham Parris, who turned a perfect relay to the plate that allowed Jose Ponce to tag out Miller trying to score for the first out of the inning.
“Zach Miller getting thrown out at the plate was my fault,” Johnson said. “I thought I’d seen the ball get away from the rightfielder. … At the same time, that’s the kind of baseball we play. We play aggressive baseball, and we like to run and put pressure on teams.”
That aggressiveness would pay off after Hubbard reached on an error to put runners on first and third with one out.
Courtesy runner Chandler Powell took off for second, drawing a throw from Carter after he’d faked to third.
That sent Kwiatkowski to the plate, and the infielder slid in safely after a mishandled throw during the rundown on Powell to give Mountain View a 1-0 lead.
“That’s been the story for us all year,” Duluth coach Thomas LePage said. “We struggled a little bit in the field, and then we haven’t got the big hit. We play hard. We’ve competed with just about everybody in this region. It just comes down to the little things.”
That lead became 2-0 on an RBI single from Josh Logan later in the inning, but Duluth got one of those runs back in the top of the third with some aggressive baserunning of its own.
Darrian Graves drew a two-out walk, stole second and moved to third on Trey Harris’ single before both runners took off on a double steal, scoring Graves and pulling the Wildcats to within 2-1.
But after struggling with his control much of the inning, Hubbard managed to strike out Duluth slugger Ryan McClendon to get out of the inning, and then pitched around a Jose Ponce single and a walk to Parris in the fourth to keep the Bears in front.
“I just knew I had my teammates behind me,” said Hubbard, who threw just 47 of his 81 pitches over four innings for strikes, but gave up just three hits and one earned run and struck out seven. “I knew if I just threw strikes, they’d make some plays for me. … We went out there still fighting to win.”
And the Bears did lock down the win thanks to three outstanding innings from the bullpen, which didn’t allow Duluth any more serious scoring chances.
Peery struck out four of the six consecutive Duluth hitters he retired over two perfect innings, while Utley needed just seven pitches, including a strikeout on the final hitter, to close out his sixth save of the season and the region title.