All baseball fans have that dream: bottom of the ninth, two outs, man on second, 3-2 pitch, and the championship game on the line. They pretend to hit the pitch, and hiss all the way to first in imitation of the crowd congratulating them. For most people, this is a fantasy they will never live out.For Ted Mills, though, this is no longer a fantasy; it is a reality.
Mills was Castleton’s hero as he drove in Billy Manley with two outs in the bottom of the 11th inning of the North Eastern Athletic Conference East Division tournament game against Husson University on May 2.
Mills took a pitch and drove the ball into the right center gap, giving Manley, who was running on contact, plenty of time to race home with his right-hand pointer finger raised high and proud, signaling that Husson’s one-year reign atop the conference was over.
Spartans poured out of the dugout any way they could, eager to meet Manley at the plate. Their next target, however, was Mills, who quickly found himself at the bottom of a huge pile of screaming Spartans.
“I just looked for a pitch outside,” Mills said after the game. “I didn’t want to do too much with it, just wanted to put it over the first baseman’s head. When I saw [the last pitch of the at bat] I just couldn’t hold back.”
Coach Ted Shipley was visibly excited.
“I feel really good right now,” he said moments after taking a team picture in front of the scoreboard.
Mills, who was clearly on an adrenaline high, was one of the most excited on the team.
“I’m really pumped right now,” he said, taking quick breaths. “We did this as a team. We pulled it out.”
Billy Sisko started for Castleton, keeping Husson off balance for 6.1 innings. He gave up just four hits and two runs on the day. Tyler Erickson got the win in relief as he pitched two scoreless innings, giving up just one hit while striking out two.
While an ordinary championship win is exciting, this was no ordinary win. Castleton had to pull off an improbable comeback to recapture its crown.
The Spartans, who drew first blood in the bottom of the fifth inning, found themselves in a 5-1 hole after the top of the ninth inning.
Facing the probability that the double-elimination tournament would be forced to a game two, they came into the bottom of the ninth composed and ready to fight.
It all started with Mills, who led off the inning with a walk.
Pinch-hitter Kurt Hewes was then called on, and he responded by ripping a single to right, advancing Mills to third base. Mills then scored on a groundout by Cesar De La Cruz. After that, Castleton would get two walks and a RBI single, bringing up Matt Eisenhuth, who tied the game with a two-RBI single that nicked the top of the glove of Husson’s third baseman.
Husson then brought in Dan Beatham with the bases loaded to face Mills. Mills grounded out to the shortstop on a 3-2 pitch, sending the game into the extra innings.
After the ninth, the Spartans played two solid innings on offense and defense that none of them are soon to forget.
Shipley said he wasn’t too sure about Castleton’s chances to pull off the tying rally in the bottom of the ninth.
“I keep track of how many times my teams have come back from down two runs or more in the bottom of the ninth, and it has only happened four times,” he said.
“So this kind of thing doesn’t happen a lot.”
Mills, though, said he felt very optimistic about Castleton’s chance to turn the game around.
“We’re a team. We’re a smart team,” he said. “Even with two outs we could come back. Thomas [College] came back with two outs, so we thought why couldn’t we?”
The Spartans are now 29-12 overall and will face SUNYIT for the NEAC conference championship in a best-of-three game series at Delutis Field in Rome, N.Y. on May 8 and 9.