Lower Sussex’s Junior League Baseball All-Stars shut out cross-town rival Millsboro 8-0 on July 11, kicking off their quest to repeat as District III champions.
Head Coach Craig Conover’s Lower Sussex All-Star team hails mostly from Selbyville Middle School’s successful program and in only three years of league play, won the district championship in 2003 and the state championship in 2004.
Though Lower Sussex has had success in the past, Conover claims that this year the road will only get tougher.
“They’re all tough games went you get to this point,” said Conover. “Seaford, Cape and Laurel are all tough teams. We’ll see a No. 1 pitcher every game.”
Lower Sussex has fared well against Laurel, beating them twice by delivering on a game-winning double and homerun.
But Conover’s team didn’t need any game-winning homeruns against Millsboro’s squad of All-Stars on July 11. All they would need is a smattering of runs — eight of them — and seven efficiently pitched innings.
Lower Sussex dug deep out of a hole in the top of the first to gain a 3-0 advantage despite two quick outs.
Shortstop Luis Barrientos scrapped his way on base by a throw to first to score an infield single — giving Lower Sussex a little life.
After taking a ball, third-baseman Cory Showalter dashed a single into leftfield to give Lower Sussex their first scoring opportunity. Catcher Bo Wilkinson jumped on the first attractive pitch to score Barrientos on an RBI single.
Showalter would quickly add to Lower Sussex’s 1-0 lead on a past pitch, extending their lead 2-0 with two outs. From there, Lower Sussex would draw three straight walks.
Wilkinson scored on a past pitch to first-baseman Drew Bennett, in what would be the last run of the inning.
Starting pitcher Cameron Travalini worked quickly from there: two straight 1-2-3 innings to start it off, including two of his six strikeouts.
“Cam did a good job throwing strikes for us tonight,” said Conover. “He only threw 62 pitches, and defensively we played very solid.”
Barrientos added two more runs to Lower Sussex’s total on his 3-4 hitting, which included a single, ground-rule double, solo homerun, three runs and a walk. Though Barrientos just missed hitting for the cycle, his play at the plate was matched in the field as he gathered Millsboro ground balls and effortlessly flung them to first.
He snared four balls for outs and corralled one would-be extra-base hit and limited it to a single. His quality play in the field must have been contagious, because his teammates responded well to his success at the plate — especially in the top of the fourth inning.
Following his solo homerun, Showalter smashed a double with a full count on him, and Wilkinson delivered on a RBI single that would score Barrientos.
Showalter, like Barrientos, finished the day 3-4, just without the homerun and two runs and a stolen base. Wilkinson had three RBI’s on 2-3 hitting, a stolen base and a run. Travalini drew three walks on 0-2 hitting.
“When a rally starts, it gets them really pumped up,” said Barrientos.
Travalini was on cruise control until Millsboro’s bats started to heat up in the bottom of the sixth inning. With one out, Millsboro put the pressure on Lower Sussex after hustling for two infield singles — the second with a full count. Both runners stole their respective bases, giving them their best scoring opportunity of the game.
Travalini struck the next batter out — with another full count. Barrientos squelched Millsboro’s rallying squad by reeling in a first-pitch fly pop to short.
A ground ball or fly ball into the outfield would’ve scored both runs and might’ve given Millsboro enough momentum to make a run at the game, but Travalini and his teammates — all they could do is trust in their training and each other.
“I just tried to stay focused and remember my techniques,” said Travalini. “It brings your confidence up when you have so many great players behind you.”
Lower Sussex added their final run on a bases-loaded walk by Elijah Foreman, giving them an 8-0 lead.
Showalter came in to work the seventh, and three straight ground balls later, Lower Sussex came out the winner as they prepared to take on Cape Henlopen at Millsboro Little League on July 12.
But there was a slight change in plans. The Laurel-vs.-Seaford game that day went into extra innings and had no end in sight with a lead that changed multiple times, so league officials postponed the Lower Sussex-vs.-Cape Henlopen game to July 13 at 6 p.m. Results were not available prior to the Coastal Point deadline.