Wednesday, June 20, 2018
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Jim Ecker, President & Editor

Miller shines as Eagles sweep SCC


The Kirkwood Eagles needed a boost Saturday after dropping a pair of one-run games to 19th-ranked Southeastern Community College on the  final weekend of the regular season.

It was Miller time.

Austin Miller tossed a complete game as the Eagles trimmed the Blackhawks, 3-1, in the first game of their doubleheader to stop the bleeding and lift everyone's spirits.

Kirkwood then captured the second game, 9-5, to earn a split of the  fourth-game series and give themselves a heavy dose of momentum heading into the regional tournament in Waterloo.

Kirkwood and Southeastern began the weekend in a tie for first place  in the conference with 13-7 records, but they were only one game ahead  of NIACC and Iowa Central. As it turned out, NIACC and Iowa Central both swept their four-game series this weekend and tied for the conference title with 16-8 marks. Kirkwood and Southeastern tied for  third at 15-9.

Kirkwood drew the No. 4 seed in the regional tournament at Riverfront  Stadium in Waterloo and will meet No. 5 seed DMACC on Thursday at 3:30  p.m.

Miller, a 6-foot-7 right-hander from Iowa City West, had struggled on the mound the last few weeks, but he emerged as the stopper Saturday with a good fastball and nasty change-up.

He was determined to have a good outing after Southeastern won the first two games in the series, 1-0 and 9-8.

"Honestly, I wanted to show them: You know what, these guys are not better than us and I'm going to prove it to them," he remarked. "I  wanted to get our team fired up and say, 'Hey, we're going to take two and we're not going to roll over and lay down.' I really wanted to go."

Miller struck out seven batters and allowed only four hits in the seven-inning contest. Southeastern scored in the first inning on a  bloop double and two-out single, but he was in command the rest of the  way.

Miller has a 5-4 record this season, but he was allowing more than six  runs per game before Saturday's performance. Even now, he's got a 5.53  ERA that's not to his liking.

Miller compiled a 10-2 record and 1.91 ERA as an all-state pitcher at  Iowa City West last season and was not happy with recent outings.

"Honestly, I kind of went back to basics," he said. "I kind of sat  down last week and thought to myself, what have I changed since high  school?

"I kind of went back to my high school routine this week. I didn't  throw a mid-week pen, kind of took a couple more days off than I  normally did this season and came back and it felt good today.  Everything was working."

Miller threw his change-up for strikes, got ahead in the count and had  good command of his fastball. His change-up dropped a few inches as it  crossed the plate and baffled the Blackhawks.

"They were way out ahead on the change-up," he said. "I could throw it  in any count and it was really working for me today."

Kirkwood Coach Todd Rima brought in a strong freshman class of  pitchers this season and knew they would play a big role in the club's  fortunes. Miller was supposed to be an ace this year and filled the  part Saturday.

"That's the Austin Miller we know," said Rima. "He was awesome today.  He needed that, and we needed to see that. We feel we're a better team  today after seeing that going into the tournament.

"I think he just went back to trusting his stuff. He didn't over-think  things. His change-up was a great pitch today."

Miller has already signed with the University of Mississippi and will  pitch for the Rebels next season after spending one year at Kirkwood.  He looked like somebody who could succeed in the Southeastern  Conference with the way he threw Saturday.

"It's always been a dream of mine to go play in the SEC, especially  for Ole Miss," he said. "I always wanted to be a Reb, so it's kind of  funny how that turned out.

"I'm really pumped," he said, "but I still have some unfinished  business to take care of this year."

Rima liked the way his club rebounded after losing a pair of  frustrating games to Southeastern. The Eagles fell 1-0 in the first  game Friday, then blew an 8-2 lead in the second game that was  suspended due to darkness and finished Saturday with the score tied 8-8.

"I couldn't be any more proud of our guys," he said. "To bounce back  after losing two games like that, I think it says a lot about their  character and I think it bodes well for us moving into tournament play.

"I think it's big for us moving forward."

Korry Howell, a talented shortstop for the Eagles, went 2-for-2 in the  3-1 victory and scored two runs. Colin Kreiter was 2-for-2 and had a  sacrifice fly.

Kirkwood struggled on defense in the early stages of the nightcap and  fell behind 3-0, but the Eagles battled back with four runs in the  fourth inning and grabbed a 7-3 lead in the fifth when Kreiter drilled  a two-run homer to right field.

Southeastern pulled within 7-4 in the sixth and 7-5 in the seventh,  but the Eagles tacked on a pair of insurance runs and relief pitchers  Kaden Wadle and Lorenzo Elion closed the door.

Howell was 3-for-5 in the nightcap and scored two more runs. Elion,  the starting third baseman, had two hits and two RBIs. Tyler Bordner  also had two hits.

Peyton Long pitched five innings for the victory in the second game,  raising his record to 7-1. The Blackhawks scored three runs against  him, but they were all unearned.

Kreiter made a sensational running catch in deep left-center in the  ninth inning of the nightcap. Ellison Hanna made a terrific diving  catch in right-center in the first game to get the Eagles out of  trouble.

Kirkwood will take a 33-16 overall record into the regional  tournament. Southeastern is 37-17.


Southeastern     100 000 0 - 1 4 2
Kirkwood         011 010 x - 3 6 1

W - Miller. L - Stout.


Southeastern     030 001 100 - 5 8 3
Kirkwood         000 430 11x - 9 11 5

W - Long. L - Garcia.


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