ETTERS - It takes a team to win a ball game, but sometimes one player stands out as the catalyst in that win.
Tuesday, Kaden Milliron was Big Valley's catalyst.
As starting pitcher for the Big Valley 9- and 10-year-old Little League all stars, Milliron shut out New Bethlehem on just one hit through 3 1/3 innings and also went 3-for-3 at the plate with five RBIs as his team advanced through the Section 4 consolation bracket with a 14-0 win in four innings.
"That was very big. I knew he could do it. He plays for me in the regular season and threw great all year," Big Valley manager Gary Eichhorn said of Milliron.
And that outstanding performance from the mound was just what Big Valley needed. Monday, Big Valley burned through its pitchers in a 10-8 loss to Red Land in the first round of the tournament, but Milliron's dominating performance made it nothing more than a side note that his team was positioned with fewer backups than normal.
However, if Milliron was the face on the win, the whole Big Valley team was the legs, as 14 total hits and flawless defense throughout the game had the locals sprinting past New Bethlehem to today's contest, a 6 p.m. matchup against West Suburban, which suffered a 10-0 loss to Red Land.
"I know he throws strikes, but today our defense showed up and that was different from last night," Eichhorn said, and anyone watching Tuesday's contest wouldn't have had an inkling that defense had been a problem just one day before.
Some of the notable defensive plays included Marshall Maidens' two unassisted putouts at first base, Anson Wagner's move to fight the sun in right field and pull in a tough liner for the third out of the second, and back-to-back outs to pickoff the lead runner when Milliron turned two comebackers to the mound into outs at second with the help of shortstop Ethan Eichhorn.
In the third, Big Valley broke open the bats as aggressive base running, seven hits and a few New Bethlehem errors contributed to an eight-run inning. Brycen Hassinger got the locals started when he led off with a single up the first-base line which he was able to stretch to a three bagger when the New Bethlehem right fielder was slow on the relay. From there, Hassinger scored on a wild pitch to make the score 4-0 - Big Valley had previously put up three runs in the first - and the floodgates were opened.
Singles from Cole Knable, Trey Kibe, Brody Schnell, Colby Bodtorf and Milliron kept runners on base all inning long as many locals were able to collect RBIs in the inning. Most notable were Schnell's and Milliron's two-run shots, but Kibe and Knable were also able to bat runs in during the breakout inning.
"This team is definitely a hitting team. When we throw it all together, we're a tough team to beat," Gary Eichhorn said, explaining that the difference between Tuesday and Monday, in which Big Valley got the hits but couldn't put the runs across when they were most needed, was his team's relaxed approach.
"I think the big thing was they were loose. (Monday) when it got I think when it got close, they got a little bit tight and that was the difference. Today they played their game," he said.
Schnell's shot to center to bring home Knable and Kibe was special because he hadn't started the game, but was still a major contributor off the bench.
"Brody's been hitting the ball whether sub or starting," Eichhorn said.
Big Valley's first runs were in the first, when a single up the first base line by Bodtorf brought in Maidens for the first run of the game, then Milliron put the first of his two-run shots off the center field fence to score Bodtorf and Hassinger, who had walked.
In the fourth, Big Valley then put up three more runs, as a sacrifice fly to left field from Bodtorf and RBI singles from Ethan Eichhorn and Milliron kept the locals rolling.
"Everyone is starting to come along on this team," Gary Eichhorn concluded about his team. "They play a lot of games together, so they keep playing tough."