Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)
Miller shines for Conestoga
TREDYFFRIN » Conestoga senior Leonard Watson knows Tim Miller pretty well.
After all, they’ve been teammates on the football field for three years in addition to their time together on the diamond. Miller, the Pioneers’ quarterback, even took his snaps from Watson, a center and defensive tackle. Both were Honorable Mention All-Central League this fall.
But even Watson hadn’t seen Miller like this before.
“I saw a side of Tim I’ve never seen before,” Watson said. “I’ve never seen him so focused, so on point.”
Like a fade to the corner of the end zone, Miller spent the afternoon pounding the strike zone with an array of devastating pitches spotted with clinical precision. The result was a three-hit shutout he needed only 73 pitches to complete, and when the dust settled on a cloudy afternoon at
the home side had clinched a share of the Central League title with a 1-0 triumph over Haverford. Watson’s twoout RBI single in the bottom of the fifth inning provided the game’s lone run and put the Pioneers on the verge of glory; with a Senior Day victory against Upper Darby on Monday, the Pioneers can capture their first outright league championship since 2008.
“Two outstanding clubs, two teams tied for first, and two of the best pitchers in the league – it was as advertised,” said Conestoga coach John Vogan. “Our pitching and defense won the game for us. We scratched out a run that we had to – we were a little frustrated early – but our defense played superb today. We tell them that runs are great, and that’s what brings people in, but pitching and defense wins championships.”
The Pioneers received plent y of both. In a matchup that took just 88 minutes to play, offense was predictably hard to come by. Each team had its chances early, but Miller and Fords counterpart Scott McKenna rose to the occasion again and again. Conestoga (12-6, 114) loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the first, but McKenna induced a shallow fly to left and a fielder’s choice to escape the jam. Haverford (11-5, 10-5), meanwhile, led off the second with back-to-back hits, only for Miller to slither out of trouble with a 4-6-3 double play and a knee-buck- ling curveball that froze Cole Humes.
Drew Fowler opened the third with a base hit, after which Miller had clearly had enough. He set down the next 13 batters he faced, four on strikeouts, until he plunked Tom Leonard with one out in the top of the seventh. Two pitches later, he fielded a grounder by Dylan Resnick and fired to shortstop Ryne Ogren for the force at second, part of a gameending 1-6-3 twin killing.
“Getting through three or four innings with no runs puts you in that focused mindset,” Miller said. “When you work ahead you only give them one big hack at the ball – when there’s two strikes they have to protect. When I did leave first pitches up in the zone, my fielders made the plays behind me.”
Flawless defense aside, Mil l e r ’s per for mance was exquisite. He threw first-pitch strikes to the first nine batters, and 16 of 23 for the game. He never threw more than 13 pitches in any inning, and 56 of his 73 total tosses (76.7%) were strikes. The junior right-hander went to a three-ball count on exactly one hitter, striking out seven without a walk. Oh, and he went 2-for-3 at the plate to boot.
“I’m a lucky man - I have this kid for two sports,” said Vogan, also Conestoga’s football boss. “He’s the same way playing quarterback. He gets a game plan and he’s confident in it. When we got the lead, I wasn’t worried, even when he hit the kid. He was throwing good strikes and mixing his pitches so well.”
Miller helped his own cause in the fifth, when the Pioneers finally broke through against McKenna. Junior Matt Heron kickstarted the frame with a line drive to left field and, after a bunt attempt was snared by a charging Resnick at third, Miller chopped a single over the head of Resnick and into left field, putting men on first and second with one out. After Ogren bounced into a fielder’s choice, Watson dumped a 1-1 pitch over the head of second baseman Kevin Maloney and into right-center field, scoring pinch-runner Alex Burger with the winning run. Watson, who had the Pioneers’ only two hits with runners in scoring position – they finished 2-for-10 in such scenarios and stranded seven – was fooled on the pitch, but stayed with it long enough to deliver the biggest blow of the day.
“I was looking for a curveball, actually, and I got a fastball, so I hit it to right field,” Watson said. “I had to at least put it in play to give us a chance, and it did the job.”
It certainly did, and now Conestoga has one last job to finish. Despite winning a state championship in 2011 and reaching the finals a year ago, the Pioneers have not won an outright league title since 2008, splitting the crown three times (2009, 2011, 2012) during that period. Haverford, in the midst of its first winning season since 2009, last won the Central League in 1994, but the Fords – along with Penncrest and Marple Newtown – will have to hope Upper Darby shocks the Pioneers next week to have a shot at a share of the top spot.
After losing an exceptional 18-man senior class to graduation, few thought Conestoga would find itself in the driver’s seat with one game remaining. Yet here the Pioneers are, with North Carolina-bound ace Brendon Little on the mound and ready to deliver a celebration on Monday.
“We lost 18 really good seniors, and no one really thought we could do what we’re doing now,” Watson said. “We’ve played really well as a team and stayed together, and we couldn’t have done any of this without each other.”
“With all of the exceptional talent we’ve had in this program for the last few years, to get this group of seniors - who plays the game the right way and for each other – a Central League title would mean everything,” Miller added.
Moments after the closing double play, sophomore Angus Mayock charged playfully at Vogan, lugging a tub full of ice water in a mock celebration.
“Not yet,” Vogan yelled. “You can do that on Monday.”
“We’re still one away,” he continued. “There’s no celebrating here yet.”