Column: Miller gives South hope

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 18, 2011

LANDIS—It looks like South Rowan matters again in the Area III race — and it’s largely Matt Miller’s fault.
The South Rowan right-hander gave Post 185/146 something more than a well-pitched victory Saturday night. He gave them hope.
“Yeah, we’ve had a bunch of tough losses this year,” Miller understated after South curbed a four-game losing streak by rallying past cross-town rival Rowan. “We’ve had a monkey on our back for a long time. But this, this was a great win against a great team. And a great night to get that monkey off our back.”
Miller didn’t single-handedly lift South off the canvas, but he threw a decisive punch. This was a victory that gave the program its voice back, a triumph that served notice that the feisty Southsiders weren’t checking out just yet. And there was Miller, performing as first violinist and making sweet music.
“He was the difference of the night,” chirped Rowan coach Jim Gantt. “He gave them a chance and they went with it.”
On tap were Miller’s above-average fastball and a menacing slider that trimmed — if not not painted — both corners of the plate. What he accomplished may not have registered seismically, but it certainly stopped the bleeding.
“What he did,” teammate Gunnar Hogan said, “was boost our confidence. That’s how the whole team feels when he’s on the mound. We know he’s gonna throw strikes. We know he’s gonna get the job done.”
Miller was one tough hombre against second-place Rowan. In a season-high 120-pitch, eight-inning stint he rang up eight batters, allowed three hits and yielded but two earned runs.
“He commanded his fastball,” South pitching coach Kenny Simpson pointed out. “We probably threw it 85, 90 percent of the time. The slider he was able to throw for strikes in key situations.”
That sounds like the Twitter version. Miller — now 2-2 with a 4.91 ERA for a 4-14 team that’s trying to regain its fizz — provided the full story.
“I had the endurance to last this long,” he said. “It’s not normal, but I had a lot of things going for me. Kenny put me in some good pitch sequences. We played pretty good defense. And I’d had a week off so I felt good out there. All in all, it was just a productive night.”
Especially for Miller. He found his groove in the middle innings after Rowan took a 3-0 lead. Forced to become more of an artist than scientist, he set down 13 of 14 RC batters between the third and seventh frames.
“He started mixing it up the second time through our lineup,” Rowan slugger Justin Morris noted. “The first time through he was mainly throwing fastballs. Later it was changeups and off-speed pitches. You couldn’t really guess anymore. We were off-balance, swinging late on fastballs and early on off-speed stuff.”
By most accounts Miller made just one mistake — the 3-2 fastball he grooved to Morris in the top of the first inning.
“I worked it to a full count,” said Morris, who guessed right and deposited the ball over the fence in left. “He left that one right in the middle, belt-high. I was sitting on it.”
Miller, competitive bulldog that he is, begged to differ. “It wasn’t a mistake,” he insisted. “It was just a pitch that I left high and he made me pay for it.”
Fair enough. He quit paying from then on, allowing only base hits by Will Sapp in the third inning and Matt Mauldin in the eighth. Most importantly, South made him a winning pitcher by massaging three runs across the plate in the bottom of the seventh and two more in the eighth.
“I like how he’s not afraid to go after hitters and throw it inside,” Hogan said. “He knows how to get people out.”
There’s nothing about Miller that makes you sit up and take notice. No crazy hair, no visible tatoos, no wild demeanor. What you get with him is UPS, a plain package delivered on time. “And tonight, he threw a great game,” Morris said.
Perhaps the most ringing compliment came from Gantt moments after RC’s six-game winning streak was halted.
“I hated that it happened against us,” he said. “But it was fun to watch Matt Miller pitch tonight.”