Britton pitches Milford past Windham into D-II quarters

MILFORD – Sandwiched between a jittery first inning and a seventh inning when fatigue set in, Thursday afternoon was a walk in the park for Ryan Britton and the Milford Spartans.

Britton pitched 71?3 innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on eight hits while striking out nine and walking one for the win as sixth-seeded Milford recorded a 7-3 Division II baseball preliminary round win over 11th-seeded Windham at Keyes Memorial Field.

It was exactly as Milford coach Stephen Claire had envisioned coming out of the Spartans recent practice sessions.

“Ryan had good command today,” said Claire, whose squad will travel to Plymouth on Saturday for a 4 p.m. quarterfinal meeting with the No. 3 Bobcats (13-4), who beat No. 14 Hanover 7-0 Thursday. “Last game of the season was the first game all season that he didn’t have command of all his pitches. He bounced back extremely well today. We had three great practices leading up to today, and I knew we’d come out and play a good game.

“With him on the mound, he’s a gamer, he came through for us.”

The Jaguars jumped on Britton for a run in the first inning, as Chris Murphy walked with two outs, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on a sharp single up the middle by Connor Hopkins. The Spartans senior pitcher settled down immediately after that, striking out Riley Magee to end the inning.

“I had some pre-game jitters,” Britton said. “The first playoff game, and I was just trying to get ahead of hitters in that first inning. It was a little bit of a struggle. I left one over the plate and the kid hit it up the middle, but you live with that and you just get over it and then you fall into a rhythm after that.”

Britton would face a couple gut-check situations the next six innings, but nothing he couldn’t handle.

He would sit down Windham batters 1-2-3 in the second and third innings, give up a pair of hits and a fielder’s choice before striking out two straight batters to strand runners at second and third base in the fourth, cough up a couple of two-out hits in a fifth inning that ended with catcher Jason Blais gunning down a runner at third during an attempted double steal, and return to form with another 1-2-3 frame in the sixth.
“You spot up on the zone and you can just hit anywhere you want,” said Britton of finding his rhythm. “On days like those, when almost all your pitches are working, you can almost be unhittable.”

While he wasn’t unhittable, Britton’s fastball and curve were on point most of Thursday afternoon. When the final inning set in, however, he needed a little backup to close out the victory.

Windham leadoff batter, Kevin Anderson reached on a single, advanced to second on a ground out and got to third base on Josh Gallagher’s infield single. Anderson would score as Britton served up an RBI single to Greg Macary with his last pitch of the day. He was relieved by Mason Gaudette, who after allowing Britton’s one unearned run to score, recorded a strikeout for out two and fielded a grounder back tot he box cleanly for the final out.

“It’s been like that all year,” Britton said. “In the past we haven’t had like a closer, who can come in and shut down games and we always blew them. But this year it’s a little bit different. We have people who just come in, close the door and get the job done.”

Also getting the job done was Milford’s offense. Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the second inning, the Spartans manufactured a run as Britton led off with a double, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a sacrifice-fly off the bat of Gaudette.

They would take a 3-1 lead with a two-run third, as Chris Smith (double) and Jesse Rood (single) scored on a Drew Jepson double.

Milford’s advantage grew to six in the fourth as Seth Hopkins (single), Bryce Walker (infield single), Smith (walk), Sawyer Trask (double) all came around to score for a 7-1 lead. Hopkins and Walker crossed the plate on Trask’s double, Smith reached home on a Rood single and Trask darted home safely on Jepson’s perfectly executed squeeze bunt.

“I just had a feeling that we were come out and play a good baseball game, because the attitudes over the last three days have been exactly what you want them to be at the end of a season,” said Claire, who named Gaudette the starter for Saturday’s quarterfinal meeting with Plymouth. “We feel like our best baseball is ahead of us.”