Clinging desperately to a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the fifth, the Pace Patriots were feeling the pressure.
With one out and the tying Milton run on second base, Chase Beckstrom gave his team some relief.
The junior second baseman turned a double play — catching a pop fly and then beating the runner back to the bag — and teammate Justin Goodloe thanked him for it with a two-run double in the top of the sixth as the Patriots turned in a 6-3 win in the District 1-6A baseball championship.
“Our guys, they were up all night and they were ready to play,” said Jason McBride, in his first year as head coach. “Milton’s a good team, they came ready to play, and I knew it was going to be a hard-fought game.
“They’re well coached and, anytime you play those guys, if you’re not ready to play they’re going to beat you.”
Adding another chapter to the historic Santa Rosa County rivalry, both teams kept the contest entertaining from start to finish as the Patriots took the lead early off four runs in the top of the second that the Panthers answered with a three-run rally in the bottom of the third.
“We got to come out and get a few more hits, but their pitching staff had a lot to do with that,” Milton coach George Blake said. “We got a little hot in the third and had some things going, but that was about the only time we had some things going … You got to tip your hat to them, they did a good job.”
“I’m proud of my guys not rolling over right there, but I don’t expect that from them,” he continued. “They did a good job fighting back right there and getting us back in the ball game. We just have to mix in some more hits there and do a little bit of a better job at the plate.”
The rally was no surprise to the Patriots, who split the regular-season series with the Panthers 1-1.
“That’s a George Blake-coached team,” McBride said. “That’s what they do. They’re going to scrap till the last inning, till the last out. That’s the kind of coach he is and that’s the kind of team he has every year because they just scrap. That’s a testament to him as a coach that he gets the most out of his kids.”
Now, the District 1-6A champion Patriots will prepare to host 2-6A runner-up Oakleaf next Wednesday while Milton must travel to face Columbia.
If both teams win their region quarterfinals, they will see each other one last time.
“The old cliche ‘Just one game a time’, that’s how you have to be from here on out,” McBride said. “You lose, you’re out so you have to come ready to play.
“You have no choice.”
District 1-6A Championship
Thursday at Escambia High School
PACE 6, MILTON 3
Pace (13-6)…040 002 0—6 7 3
Milton (12-8)…003 000 0—3 4 1
WP—Connor Howton 4 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K. LP—Micah McGaha 4 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K.
Pace hitters—Brice Peaden 2-4; Van Goodloe 1-3, 2B, 2 RBI; Chase Beckstrom 1-4, R, RBI, 2B; Jason Barlow 1-2, 2 R, RBI; Howton 1-2, 2 RBI, SAC. Milton hitters—Garrett Rogers 1-3, R; Justin Railey 1-2, RBI; Jeff Hendershott 1-3, RBI; Brenden Blevins 1-3, R.
Want to go?
• WHO: Pace vs. Oakleaf; Milton vs. Columbia.
• WHAT: Region 6A Quarterfinals.
• WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday (tentative).
• WHERE: Pace hosts the 2-6A runner up, Milton travels to Lake City.
• ADMISSION: $7.