The Mid-Island Brewers are back in the South Island Baseball League finals after sweeping a doubleheader against the Layritz Monarchs at Evans Park last Saturday.
It wasn’t an easy sweep for the Brewers, however, as they needed extra innings to get past the Monarchs in game one before winning the second game comparatively handily.
The first game, in the words of Mid-Island manager Keygan Hankins, was “a bit of a doozy.”
The Brewers got off to a great start, scoring twice in the bottom of the first to establish a lead for Jordy Frost, one of the team’s best pitchers. Although Frost cruised through the top of the first, it soon became clear that he wasn’t going to get deep into the game.
“Jordy had just gotten over a pretty serious illness and he ended up telling me that his body was just drained and he didn’t have the energy to continue on,” Hankins related. “And that became most apparent during the third inning, when he walked the first batter of the inning, and I knew we had to make a change.”
Hayden Plester was scheduled to start the second game on Saturday, but Hankins opted to call him in from centrefield to relieve Frost, and he came through with an outstanding performance, allowing just two runs over five innings while striking out eight. Unfortunately, the bats weren’t producing, and although Jamie Roberts homered to put Mid-Island up 4-3 in the fifth inning, the Monarchs were able to tie the game at 4-4 in the top of the seventh, setting up the Brewers’ first extra-innings game of the 2022 season.
Plester pushed on into the eighth, but walked his first two batters, so Hankins turned to Roberts, the ace of the staff, to mop up. Roberts had pitched a complete game shutout against the Lambrick Pirates just five days earlier, and wasn’t at his best. Both inherited runners scored, putting the Brewers under pressure in the bottom of the eighth.
After their leadoff runner got on base, the next two batters struck out and grounded out, leaving the Brewers down two with a runner on first and two outs. Alejandro Ortega stepped up with a double to left-centre to drive in the run from first base, then stole third and reached home on a wild pitch to tie the game at 6-6.
After a scoreless ninth, the Monarchs capitalized on an error to go up in the top of the 10th, and it was looking bleak once again for the Brewers as their first two batters went down in order. Frost singled and stole second to get into scoring position, then scored on a Jace Hamm single to make it 7-7.
The red-hot Ortega took an intentional walk — something rarely seen in the SIBL — putting runners on first and second with two outs. Riley McAuley singled to load the bases, and Owen Ketch knocked a walk-off single between the first and second basemen to win the game.
The momentum from the opening win carried over for the Brewers, who put Ortega on the mound to start the second game. An early double by Roberts helped the Brewers get in front right out of the gate, and the lead grew steadily as Ortega pitched what Hankins called “his best game since putting on a Brewers uniform.”
“Honestly, he looked unhittable, and stayed that way for six innings, before finally allowing a single to end his bid for a no-hitter,” the manager said. “But he didn’t care; he was focused on one thing and one thing only, and that was advancing to the finals, and he managed it.”
Ortega pitched all seven innings, allowing three runs — none of them earned — on two hits, while striking out seven.
The defending champion Brewers will face the Lambrick White Sox in the SIBL final. All games will be played at Lambrick Park. Game one is set for this Friday at 7 p.m., with game two on Sunday at 3 p.m. If a third game is required, it will take place on Monday at 7 p.m.