By Justin Vigil-Zuniga
Signal Sports Writer
For the second consecutive year, Millikan baseball ended Hart’s CIF playoff run.
Rams ace Myles Patton shut out the Indians on Tuesday, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out eight in their CIF Division 2 second-round matchup.
Millikan jumped on Hart early and got off to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. Indians starting pitcher Chris Downs struggled to throw strikes in his opening inning. The junior struck out his first batter before walking his next three.
Patton would bring in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly.
Hart would never recover and couldn’t muster up any offense against Patton, a Long Beach State commit.
Millikan added to their lead in the second with a leadoff bomb from first baseman Ryan Geck. The senior went opposite and launched a ball over the bungalows beyond right field.
Downs then surrendered another hit followed by a walk, forcing head coach Jim Ozella to make the tough call to pull his starter in the second inning.
“We didn’t get off to a good start. We learn from it but it’s tough to learn when it’s your last game,” said Ozella.
Indians pitcher Ethan Rhodes would keep Hart in the game with a solid six innings of work.
Rhodes allowed three hits and just one run in his relief outing.
Patton had a strong bid for a no-hitter going until Indians first baseman Ryan Egan got a two-out base hit after a big infield bounce sent the ball flying over Geck.
“We know how [Patton] pitches,” said Egan. “But when you face a guy like that it’s very difficult. We gave it all we had. It’s very unfortunate but you gotta keep your head up high when you face a guy like that.”
The ace didn’t falter and struck out Ryan De La Maza to end the inning.
“[I was] just trying to stick to my game plan,” said Patton. “Just trying to throw strikes, keep them off balance, work both sides of the plate, work all over and trust my defense.”
Geck added one more insurance run in the top of the sixth. The first baseman brought in Noah Lomeli with a big RBI single but Geck was caught at second trying to make it a double.
Hart had its best chance to score in the bottom of the sixth. Junior Zachary Kukreja gave the Indians life with a pinch-hit single to lead off the inning with the top of the order due up. Patton hadn’t allowed a runner to get to second yet and wasn’t about to start.
Leadoff man Reagan Meyer grounded into a double play that gutted Hart before another forced ground ball ended the inning.
Patton started off the bottom of the seventh strong and struck out Indians catcher Matt Quintanar, who was looking for a pitch to launch.
Egan was the only Indian to reach twice after being walked, but even with the speedy pinch runner Matthew Perez, Hart couldn’t get a runner past second let, alone across the plate.
Patton registered two strikeouts in the bottom of the seventh and ended the game on a foul out from freshman Mike Hogen. Patton held Hart to one run in last year’s playoff matchup that Millikan won 2-1.
“Last year and this year, I knew it was going to be a battle out here,” said Patton. “That’s what I love and play baseball for, just to battle and have fun games like that. It’s a great team over there, all of those guys, especially Matt Quintanar, he’s a beast.”
The Indians capped off another stellar season, winning plenty of tough non-league games, winning a league championship, winning a playoff game, all with a fairly new team with just two returning starters.
“A lot of positives,” said Ozella. “A lot of individuals made some serious growth, baseball-wise and maturity-wise. They should be proud of what they did. No need for them to put their heads down.”
Hart will graduate another impressive senior class but Ozella has a good handful of strong returners along with a freshman team that went undefeated this season. Even with a new-look team next season, no one expects the Indians to shy away from the top of the Foothill League.
“Both teams deserved to make it to the playoffs and get to where we are now,” said Egan. “Unfortunately, we were on the wrong end of it but it was an amazing ride for us.”