Polytech edges Wilmington Friends 3-1 in 8-inning baseball tourney opener

George Eilers

WILMINGTON — Two days ago, it looked like the Polytech High baseball team would not make the 24-team state tournament field.

Some results went the Panthers way on the last day of the season and they found themselves as the last team in.

And they didn’t waste the opportunity.

Senior T.J. Mitchell’s triple in the top of the eighth plated the go-ahead run as the Panthers edged No. 9 seed Wilmington Friends 3-1 in an extra-inning first-round contest on Thursday. Polytech will play at eighth-seeded Salesianum at 3 p.m. Saturday in the second round.

“It means everything to us,” Mitchell said. “We’ve been working all year for this. We earned this spot, we didn’t know if we would make it or not, but we knew if we did we would play our hearts out.”

The tournament had not been kind to the Panthers the last couple of years.

Two years ago they dropped a 1-0 game to Conrad on a walkoff hit in the first round. Last year they defeated Delmar in the first round but had to play Conrad again in the second game of a doubleheader and lost 10-4 after leading 1-0 going into the sixth.

It looked like those state tournament demons were back to haunt Polytech again in the bottom of the seventh.

Wilmington Friends tied the game 1-1 despite not hitting a ball out of the infield. The first two runners got on due to a throwing error and a dropped third strike.

One run scored on a force play and relief pitcher Evan Harris was able to escape the jam with another groundout and a strikeout.

“When they scored that run I looked at all our players and not one of them had their head down,” said Polytech coach George Eilers. “Things happen in baseball and that’s what I was most proud of, the way they bonded together and got through that seventh.”

The Panthers got some luck of their own in the top half of the eighth and quickly capitalized.

Brent Buckson reached base on a dropped third strike to lead off the inning. Eilers then originally called for a sacrifice bunt with Mitchell at the plate.

After the first two pitches, Eilers changed his mind and called for a hit and run. Mitchell smacked a liner the opposite way down the first base line for a triple to easily score Buckson.

“I didn’t think we were in a position to give up an out,” Eilers said. “I thought the top of the order had some good at-bats and were just unlucky. T.J. has been one of our best hitters all year so I thought if we could get the runner moving we could make something happen.”

“I’m just trying to do a job,” Mitchell said. “I knew my teammates had my back, cheering me on and I just wanted to do the job for them. It felt great, my heart is still beating right now.”

Harris gave himself some insurance by launching a deep flyball to the leftfield corner two batters later for another RBI triple.
He then took the mound and retired the side in order.

“It’s pretty special to come in as the last seed and win,” Harris said. “We honestly didn’t know if we would make the tournament. We were all on our edge of our seats waiting to hear from coach Eilers and when we found out we got in we were really excited.”

Most of the team thought it would end up as the 25th team in the point index after the final day of the season. Polytech dropped a 4-1 result to Archmere on Monday in its season finale to finish at 10-8 overall.

The Panthers could have gotten some help from other teams on Tuesday but rain washed out most of the scheduled games in the state, except one between Mount Pleasant and St. Elizabeth.

Those two teams played at a turf field in Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania to ensure they got the game. Mount Pleasant ended up winning which pushed St. Elizabeth out of the 24th spot and vaulted the Panthers into the tournament.

“As of Tuesday we thought we were done,” Eilers said. “The state tournament for Polytech has been filled with heartbreak. We’ve lost some tough games and it’s good to see us on the other side.”

Harris recorded the win in three innings of work and Polytech received five strong innings from senior starter Mitch Barter. Barter allowed only two hits before turning it over to Harris in the sixth who stranded the potential tying run at third.

“I think we located very well,” Harris said. “Mitch was doing a good job as well as me I believe. That’s what helped us.”

“I can’t say enough good things about those guys,” Eilers said. “Mitch really paced us down the end of the season and really solidified our rotation. Then Evan, we always look for him to keep it going and he has that ability.”

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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