Batters trying to work the count against Olentangy Liberty pitcher Mitch Milheim might not be standing in the box very long.
He provided the evidence to back up that statement in the Patriots’ 3-1 victory at rival Olentangy Orange in the OCC-Buckeye baseball opener for both squads Thursday in Lewis Center.
“I think a lot of hitters – especially hitters in high school – are too selective,” Milheim said. “When I’m hitting – I try to swing first pitch as often as I can because I know that guys are trying to get a first-pitch strike. So, as a pitcher – I like to take advantage of that.”
Milheim took a no-hitter into the fifth inning before a Jack Betz seeing-eye single through the hole to right finally broke it up.
“I focus internally, rather than on something like a no-hitter,” Milheim said. “I’m trying to throw as many strikes as I can … throw as many good pitches as I can and then the results are what they are.”
Connor Evan’s infield hit later in the frame scored Betz to give the Pioneers their only run.
Milheim allowed three hits in all and threw 19 first-pitch strikes to 26 overall batters, throwing 67 of his 105 pitches for strikes in the complete-game victory. He finished with seven strikeouts, a pair of walks and a hit batter for the Patriots (6-0, 1-0).
“We’re going to have a chance to compete with anybody when he’s on the mound, and that’s really exciting for us,” Liberty coach Ty Brenning said. “He was pretty unhittable for the most part and you typically play pretty good defense when your pitcher’s throwing strikes.”
His counterpart, Jackson Tyler, was pretty good in his own right. He went the full seven innings, allowing three hits and four walks. He threw 67 of his 104 pitches for strikes, including 17 on the first pitch against the 29 batters he faced.
“He pitched well, but the walks,” Orange coach Phil Callaghan said. “The innings where we didn’t give up any 90s were quick innings. That’s the key for us.”
His three runs were all unearned, however.
“All three of their runs were when we gave up 90s and, of course, our one run came when they gave up one, Callaghan said. “So, you gotta play clean baseball to win in this division.”
Craig Lutwen scored the first Patriot run on a Corey Mayer base hit in the second inning.
It was the fourth inning that proved costly for the Pioneers. Liberty scored twice without the benefit of a hit.
“Give their kid a lot of credit because he was able to keep us off-balance and keep us out in front,” Brenning said. “He did a great job of throwing strikes and mixing his pitches as well. I thought our guys just had a hard time finding their timing and making their swing-path adjustments today.”
Mayer and Carson Comer opened the frame with back-to-back walks before an error on a Corbin Parrish sacrifice bunt scored Mayer. Mitchell Okuley drove in Comer with a sacrifice fly.
Betz reached all three times up at the plate for the Pioneers (2-3, 0-1), recording two hits and a walk.
“He had a real good week in Florida too, so he’s been real good for us,” Callaghan said. “He’s a great kid, who just does everything right and works extremely hard and now it’s paying off for him.”
Both teams continue league play today at 5 p.m. Liberty hosts Westerville South while Orange visits Westerville Central.