Nathan Mollat/Daily Journal
Mills’ Mike McWhirter, center, is greeted at home by Derrick Wong, left, and Daniel Walsh, right following McWhirter’s two-run home run in the fifth innings of teh Vikings’ 5-4 win over
Hillsdale, denying the Knights a piece of the PAL Ocean Division championship.
The Mills baseball team has struggled all season long, reaching its nadir Tuesday when the Vikings were no-hit by Hillsdale’s Ro Mahanty.
“We’ve had four hits in the last three games,” said Mills manager Tony Adornetto before the game.
The Vikings, however, had the last laugh — and ultimate revenge — as they stunned the Knights 5-4 Thursday, costing them a piece of the Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division title on the final day of the regular season.
“It’s very satisfying,” said Mills catcher Mike McWhirter, who drove in three runs and drilled a two-run homer in the top of the fifth inning to tie the score at three and then scored the go-ahead run on Roberto Zucchiatti’s grounder to shortstop, beating the throw to the plate.
Mills’ win, coupled with a 1-0 win by Capuchino over Aragon, and Sequoia’s 3-0 win over Woodside, makes Cap and Sequoia co-champions of the Ocean Division. With the loss, Hillsdale falls into second place.
McWhirter said the Vikings were aware Hillsdale was playing for a division title Thursday.
“We heard about that. We were just trying to play hard,” McWhirter said. “To come out and get a win feels good.”
Making the win even more satisfying is the fact Mills’ Zucchiatti was making his first start of the season. He spent most of the season at shortstop and served as the Vikings’ closer.
With only six wins on the season coming into Thursday’s game — and only three in Ocean Division play — Zucchiatti hasn’t had a lot of opportunities to close out games.
Thursday, however, he was dealing. He pitched a complete game, allowing four runs on six hits, striking out four and walking three — one intentionally.
“He’s thrown 10 to 15 innings (this season). He had a good arm, but hasn’t really worked at [pitching],” Adornetto said. “He was getting ahead of hitters and our defense didn’t kill us. Since he hasn’t thrown that many innings, he has a fresh arm. What helped him was, the first three innings, he kept his pitch count down and he was in a rhythm.”
The game went back and forth, with Mills striking first and last.
“They played a good game,” said Hillsdale manager James Madison of Mills. “It’s baseball. (Anything can happen on) any given day.”
The Vikings wasted little time in making sure Tuesday’s effort did not carry over to Thursday, getting a first-inning double off the bat of Jordan Ganim. He would come around to score on McWhirter’s bloop single to shallow left field to put Mills up 1-0.
Zucchiatti shut down the Knights through the first three innings, throwing just 31 pitches and allowing three hits.
“He was hitting his spots really well,” said McWhirter, Mills’ catcher.
The Knights finally got to Zucchiatti in the fourth, scoring three times. Conner Wallace led off the inning with a walk and moved to second when Chandler Viera dumped a single into shallow left field. Both runners moved up on Brett Wetteland’s sacrifice bunt and Taran Poss drove them both in with a single to left.
Poss moved to second on a wild pitch and went to second on a groundout before scoring when David Badet reached on a error to give Hillsdale a 3-1 lead.
The feeling was that would be enough, but the Vikings refused to quit. The Vikings came back to tie the score at 3 on McWhirter’s two-run blast in the top of the fifth. Derrick Wong walked to lead off the inning. Following a flyout, Mills’ No. 3 hitter, Kyle Vallans, hit a towering drive to right field that died in the right fielder’s glove as he crashed back-first into the fence for the second out. McWhirter came up and hit what appeared to be a routine fly to left. But the ball kept carrying and wound up over the fence to tie the game.
“I had no idea (it would go out). I thought it was a fly ball to left,” McWhirter said. “I think it was a little spark (for the team).”
Mills took a 4-3 lead in the top of the sixth when Zucchiatti walked and later scored when No. 9 hitter Gavin Wong drew a bases-loaded walk.
But Hillsdale came back to tie the score in the bottom of the frame. Pinch hitter Adam Schembri was hit by a pitch and Badet singled. Both runners moved up on a wild pitch and Schembri would score on the second wild pitch of the inning to tie the game at 4.
Back came the Vikings in the top of the seventh. McWhirter hit a slow roller to shortstop and reached when the throw to first sailed wide for an error. McWhirter moved to second on a wild pitch and took third on Daniel Walsh’s sacrifice bunt.
With the Hillsdale infield drawn in to cut off the go-ahead run at the plate, Zucchiatti hit exactly what the Knights were looking for — a grounder to short. McWhirter broke for the plate on contact and slid between the legs of Hillsdale catcher Poss, just beating the throw and putting the Knights ahead 5-4.
“In a situation like that, you have to take a chance,” McWhirter said. “Usually I’m really aggressive on the bases.”
Zucchiatti then took care of the rest — but there was one heart-stopping moment. Hillsdale Andrew Yarak led off the inning and hit a long, deep drive to the right-center field gap and it looked for all intents and purposes that he would get at least extra bases, if not a home run.
But Mills’ right fielder Ganim came streaking over and, running parallel just steps from the fence, made a running catch for the first out of the inning. Zucchiatti then got a strikeout. After Viera extended the inning with a walk, Zucchiatti induced a grounder to Gavin Wong at second, who threw to first to end the game.
“I told them the last three weeks, ‘We’re playing for pride,’” Adornetto said. “That was our role the last three weeks, to play spoiler.”