Winners of their last eight now, the John Milledge Academy Trojans have earned their spot in the GISA AAA state baseball semifinals thanks to Friday’s two-game sweep over the visiting Southland Academy Raiders.
The Trojans will take on former Region 4-AAA and current Region 2 champion Westfield this weekend for the right to advance to the program’s second state championship series in three years.
John Milledge soundly snagged game one against Southland winning 4-1 thanks in part to a timely double by freshman Marcus Prestwood and senior Brandon Bellflower’s second home run of the playoffs. Jared Prestwood was sound on the mound, pitching all seven innings and striking out eight Raider batters on the hot afternoon.
The opening inning of game two came and went with little action as both pitchers found a rhythm rather quickly. In the top of the second however, the Trojan bats would sound off as the home team established an early lead. After Jared Prestwood started off the inning with a double, senior Seth Bowden followed suit by connecting with a ground ball through the infield to place runners on the corners. Patrick McDonel stepped to the plate and slapped a sacrifice-fly to give JMA the first run of the evening and the lead at 1-0. A hard-hit ball past the second baseman by JMA’s Dalton Prestridge placed runners on the corners again for the Trojans before Marcus Prestwood was hit by a pitch, which loaded the bases. Taylor Dixon kept his cool in the clutch and ripped a rope into left to score a run. The rally wasn't over for the home side though, as Bellflower continued his hot streak by working a 3-1 count before shooting the ball right back through the middle of the diamond, scoring another two runs for the Trojans and giving them a 4-0 lead.
In the bottom half of the inning the Trojans (playing as the visitors) displayed some spectacular defense that featured a high-bouncing groundout to Jared Prestwood at short, a strikeout thrown by his twin brother Jacob from the mound, and a Raider runner caught stealing on a laser throw to second by the catcher Prestridge that retired the side.
The top of the third would play out similar to the last time the Trojans were at the plate as once again Jared Prestwood and Bowden found themselves at the corners with no outs. After Prestwood was able to steal home on a wild pitch to add a run to the lead, McDonel singled to right to put two men back on. Prestridge earned himself an RBI with a ball that fell in right to set the score at 6-0, JMA. Marcus Prestwood laid down a bunt to move the runners over, and Dixon came through for his teammates again in the clutch by hitting a ball up the third base line and past the defender to add another run to the Trojans’ now seemingly comfortable 7-0 lead.
The Raiders offense showed signs of life in the bottom half of the third, even loading the bases with only one out. An outstanding double play by the JMA middle infielders ended the inning with no runs surrendered as the Trojans seemed to sway all the momentum in their direction.
There would be little to no offense by either side again until the bottom of the fifth, in which the Raiders rallied to score four runs in the form of a RBI double and three-run homer, thus cutting the Trojan lead down to just 7-4. A pitching change was made and JMA junior Jackson Carter did his job by earning an out and ending the inning.
The home side was again held at bay in the top of the sixth, and a leadoff single by Southland Academy in the bottom half ignited the away dugout. Carter maintained composure despite the threat at third by striking out the next batter he faced before forcing a groundball to the mound for the second out. The next Raider batter had an excellent at bat; eventually working the count full, fouling off several pitches before flicking a looping ball up and over to the right side of the field. The ball was cutting away from all three Trojan fielders sprinting for it, but just at the last moment second baseman Dixon laid out for a diving catch that ended the inning and stranded the Raider runner at third.
Dixon had come through in the clutch several times in game two, and he wasn’t even finished. In the top of the seventh after back-to-back walks issues to JMA batters, Dixon slapped a shot into left that scored a much-needed insurance run for the Trojans as they now led 8-4.
The Raiders refused to go away quietly in the seventh, and would even put runners on first and second base with a pair of singles. Carter remained stout on the mound however, and allowed his defense to work behind him before forcing a groundout to the mound that ended the ballgame.
The Trojans look to carry their hot play into this weekend’s series at Westfield in Perry. Games one and two will be played Friday at 4 and 6:30 p.m. respectively, and game three will be played Saturday at 1 p.m. if necessary. Dominion Christian and Tiftarea will do battle on the other side of the bracket for the right to advance to the state championship series.