On the first day of Region 6-7A baseball action, the top two pitchers in a league chock-full of them faced off Wednesday at Denmark.
While Milton's Luke McNeillie settled in to pitch a solid game, Denmark's Francesco Capocci never wavered in leading the No. 2 Danes to a 5-0 victory.
After Capocci worked around a leadoff double in the top of the first, McNeillie coughed up three runs in the bottom half. Capocci took responsibility for the first two runs, launching a homer to right-center field to provide himself all of the run support he would end up needing.
“A great job by Cesco and Luke McNeillie tonight,” Denmark head coach Jamie Corr said. “Both arms were electric. When you’ve got a matchup of two big-time arms, it might be one mistake that wins you the ballgame. In the first inning, we got lucky. He got a pitch up in the zone, and Cesco was able to barrel it and get it out of the ballpark.”
Even though Milton put itself in position to get back into the game a few different times, Capocci answered every challenge through his six innings. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound righty struck out 13 against two hits, one hit batsman and no walks.
Beyond his incredible pitching line, Capocci helped himself a couple of times, as well.
In the third inning, the North Carolina signee picked off a runner immediately after a dropped third strike. The following frame saw Capocci brilliantly field his position on a dribbler, look a runner back to third base and fire to first for the out.
“We were able to buckle down in those high-pressure situations,” Corr said. “Cesco was able to get ahead all night long. When he was ahead, he was able to use his putaway stuff that got us out of a lot of jams.”
After retiring the final nine batters he faced and armed with a 5-0 lead thanks to a pair of unearned runs, Capocci made way in the seventh for Makai Day. The southpaw retired two of the three batters he saw before Corr opted to go to the bullpen again.
Luke Savage worked around a walk and a wild pitch by coaxing a liner to left field to end the game.
“Very pleased to get out of the gate 1-0,” Corr said. “At the same time, we just take it one game at a time, and we look to win every series.”
Capocci's homer followed a walk to Kyle Henley. Immediately after the blast, McNeillie issued a free pass to Cam Kenney. A passed ball and a single by Aiden Boileau brought home Kenney for a 3-0 lead.
McNeillie gave up an unearned run in the fifth, and after he departed, the Eagles (3-9-1, 0-1) gave up another freebie to the Danes (9-3, 1-0) in the sixth.
Overall, McNeillie — who will be heading to the University of Florida unless he signs to play pro ball — allowed four runs (three earned) on five hits and two walks over 5 1/3 innings. The righty — who's an inch shorter and 40 pounds lighter than Capocci — struck out eight.
“We knew we weren’t going to be able to stand up there and just get hit after hit against him,” Corr said of McNeillie. “We had to be aggressive on the bases and take some chances.
“We got lucky that they misplayed a couple of throws, threw the ball away a couple of times, and we were able to get some runs across the plate.”
A preseason top-10 team, Denmark ascended to the No. 2 spot this week after edging out North Paulding and St. Pius X in a pair of one-run games.
Capocci threw against the Wolfpack, who were ranked second at the time, striking out 15. Needless to say, Capocci carried over the good vibes from that performance into the first region contest.
“We always challenge them with a tough non-region schedule to go out there and face a kid like McNeillie and a team like Milton,” Corr said. “We know we’re going to have a high-quality opponent against us every single game in region.”