Middleton's clutch hit lifts FTB Mizuno

Tournaments : : Story
Jim Ecker        
Published: Sunday, October 11, 2009

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Clay Middleton was invited to play for FTB Mizuno in the WWBA Underclass World Championship because a regular member of the team got hurt. He's making the most of his opportunity and proving it was a smart decision.
 
Middleton sliced a two-run double to right field in the top of the seventh inning Sunday afternoon to snap a 2-2 tie and help FTB Mizuno defeat the NVTBL Stars, 6-2, in the second round of the playoffs at Terry Park.
 
Middleton strode to the plate with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh against NVTBL hurler Lance Veeder, who was pitching a strong game with mid-80s fastballs and a nice breaking ball. Middleton was ready for the challenge.
 
"I was kind of thinking curveball, but he threw me a fastball," Middleton said. "I was down 1-2 (in the count) and I figured he'd throw me a curveball. It was a fastball, high and out."
 
Middleton poked the ball down the right-field line, driving in Vicente Conde and Tyler Neuhaus with the go-ahead runs. Mizuno scored two more runs in the inning for a 6-2 lead and made it hold up.
 
The NVTBL Stars, comprised of players from Virginia and Maryland, committed three errors in the top of the seventh inning. Middleton had the only hit as his team scored four unearned runs.
 
"They're a very solid defensive team, so it was surprising to me that they kicked it around a little bit," said FTB Mizuno Coach Jered Goodwin. "We just got a break when we needed it."
 
The FTB in FTB Mizuno stands for Florida Travel Ball, and they earned a date in the quarterfinals against the Florida Mustangs. Both teams know each other well and were looking forward to the matchup on Sunday, with a berth in the semifinals of the 100-team tournament at stake.
 
Both Florida teams were headed for their third game of the day Sunday in the quarterfinals. Fortunately, the skies became overcast Sunday afternoon to diminish some of the oppressive heat and humidity, but it was still a sticky day.
 
"We've done the three-games-in-a-day thing in Perfect Game (events) before, and it's tough," said Goodwin.  "It's going to be who's more mentally prepared and it's going to be, really, who's got the most pitching left. It's going to be fun."
 
Middleton played second base in the first round of the playoffs on Sunday, then moved behind the plate in the second round and did a solid job. "He's been good all weekend," said Goodwin. "He's done a great job of catching and playing the field."
 
Middleton had a filthy uniform Sunday afternoon, but was having a great time. "I'm pretty excited," he said. "The adrenaline is kicking in. I like it."
 
Jose Ortega pitched four strong innings in relief for FTB Mizuno to get the win. He allowed only one unearned run, struck out four batters and scattered four hits.
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