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Indians still have a shot

Hart trails Saugus by one game for final guaranteed playoff spot

Posted: April 29, 2009 10:25 p.m.
Updated: April 30, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Hart's Patrick Valaika takes a swing during the 11th inning Wednesday against Saugus. The Indians wound up winning in extras 4-3.

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It has been more than two decades since Hart baseball last failed to make the playoffs.

But the Indians’ streak was put in jeopardy Wednesday at Saugus as a Centurion victory would have put Hart three games behind Saugus for the third and final guaranteed Foothill League playoff berth with only five games left to play.

The Cents and Indians battled for 11 innings before Trevor Brown legged out an infield, RBI single to give Hart a 4-3 lead, which reliever C.J. Millar made stand up by working a scoreless bottom half of the frame.

“I try not to worry about the playoffs,” said Hart head coach Jim Ozella. “We try to keep our guys focused on just playing one game at a time, and the fact that if you do good things on the field then good things will happen to the team. We are still taking things one out at a time, but it’s definitely a nice win for us.”

All four pitchers used by Hart (11-9-1, 5-5) struggled with control at times, walking 11 and beaning four Saugus batters. But the Centurions (10-9, 6-4) had trouble capitalizing, leaving 16 men on base.

“It is basically like we got 15 free runners, and we didn’t take advantage of what they gave us,” said Saugus head coach John Maggiora. “We knew this was a chance for us to really help our playoff chances, but we weren’t able to pull it off. Our guys gave a great effort, but we’ll just have to do better when we go to their place on Friday.”

Saugus got on the board first when a walk to Stefan Cordes led to an unearned run that crossed the plate on a bases-loaded walk to designated hitter Aaron Hooper in the bottom of the third.

An error by Nolan Simons had extended the inning, and Kyle Cook walked Hooper, the first batter he faced, with the bases loaded before getting out of the jam.

“We knew this was a huge game for us,” Millar said. “We needed this to really have a shot at the playoffs, and we came out and played our game.”

The Indians showed their game in the top of the fourth when Spenser Souza unloaded a two-run home run to give Hart its first lead of the afternoon.

The Indians tacked on a third run in the fifth when Trevor Brown knocked home Pat Valaika with a sacrifice fly.

“There’s no way you can fault either team’s effort out there,” Ozella said. “This was an excellent game. Both teams were into the game for all 11 innings.”

Saugus picked up its second run of the game when Millar came on in a two-on, none-out jam and balked a run home in the sixth.

The Cents then tied the game in the bottom of the seventh on a Zach Vincej solo homer.

It was the only pitch Vincej saw to hit all day. The Saugus shortstop walked in his other five plate appearances.

“Zach came up with the big hit when we needed it,” Maggiora said. “We decided we were going to really go after this game when he got that hit. That’s why we put in (Tommy) Kister out there in the eighth, even though he was supposed to start on Friday. Now we’re going to have to see what we come up with in two days. Everyone will be on call from our staff.”
Kinster worked three shutout frames before he hit trouble in the 11th.

Millar doubled with one out and moved to third on a stolen base.

Brown stepped to the plate with two out and hit a chopper to third base. The Hart catcher hustled down the line and dove headfirst into the first base bag to beat out the throw, giving the Indians the edge.

“I liked our chances when we tied it up, but you have to hand it to Brown,” Maggiora said. “He’d been having kind of a tough day at the plate, and he really busted it down the line there to get the big hit.”

The Centurions didn’t go quietly in the bottom of the 11th.

Saugus loaded the bases with two outs after Millar walked two and hit a batter, but the Hart left-hander buckled down and got James Threw to strike out looking for the final out.

“I was expecting to maybe pitch one inning when I came in,” Millar said. “I definitely wasn’t thinking about pitching six, but I did the best I could, and we got the win.”

The Hart victory adds importance to Friday’s rematch since the teams are now only one game apart in the Foothill League standings with the third and final playoff spot squarely on the line.

“Friday is huge,” Maggiora said. “I told our guys that it’s basically a playoff game. It’s World Series time.”

kdamore@the-signal.com

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