MILFORD, Mass. -- In a deadlocked game heading into the late stages, both Hopkinton and Milford knew any opportunity that came its way needed to be seized.
The Scarlet Hawks got such a chance in the bottom half of the sixth inning. Hillers lefty pitcher Nick Burns was doing a yeoman-like job keeping Milford's bats in check through the first five frames, holding them to just one run. But in the sixth, the junior quickly ran into problems by issuing walks to Eric Fernandes and Chris Trafecante. Recomposing himself on the mound, Burns retired the next two Scarlet Hawks and appeared destined to tightrope out of the jam.
But Mike Tracy had other ideas. Staring at a 2-2 count, the senior ripped a fastball in the gap between left and center field scoring both base runners en route to a 3-1 triumph in a first round Division 2 South matchup Friday afternoon at Fino Field.
"I came up to the plate looking to be aggressive," said Tracy, also the winning pitcher. "He left a fastball over the plate and I took advantage of it. I was just hoping it would find the gap and it did."
No. 8 seed Milford (14-7) will face top-seed Nauset (16-4) in Monday's quarterfinals at Eldredge Field in Orleans beginning at 7 p.m.
As impressive as he was at the plate, Tracy shined on the mound as well. The tall, lanky righthander, who hopes to play at Boston College next season, limited the ninth-seeded Hillers (12-9) to five hits in his complete game effort.
"Mike was huge today," Milford head coach Paul Pellegini said. "He threw strikes most of the day and we played good defense. I thought all three of our outfielders played very well. They tracked down some balls that were hit pretty hard. The top strength of our defense is our outfield. We didn't hit all that well today but that's a credit to Burns who threw his stuff very well. But we made the hits when we had to. I'm just glad this game was only seven innings."
The Scarlet Hawks fired the first salvo in their half of the second. Alex Tonkonogy walked, took second on a Robert Benjamin single and came around to score on Mike Tarolli's hard single to left. Burns (5-2/3 IP, 3 hits, 8 Ks) settled down after that, allowing zero hits over the next three frames, mixing his pitches well to keep Milford off-balanced.
"It was a wonderful high school baseball game," Hopkinton head coach Jay Golden said. "Tracy pitched a great game and his at bat in the sixth was a really good swing. That's what it was going to take against Nick because I thought he pitched his heart out as well.
"He's a smart pitcher and has been our ace since he was a sophomore. We knew Milford was an aggressive team and like to swing early in the count so we tried to focus on keeping them off-balanced as much as we could and for the most part Nick did that."
With Burns doing his job, he, along with his teammates, obliged by scoring the tying run in the top of the sixth. Andrew McMillian led things off by reaching on a throwing error and moving to second base. Two outs later, Burns singled putting runners on the corners. Sophomore Matt Decina followed by lining a single into right plating McMillian. Tracy avoided further trouble by inducing Connor Hudson to fly out to end the inning.
The momentum the Hillers had conceived by getting back into this one was brief after the Scarlet Hawks came up big in the bottom of the frame to win their first Eastern Mass. postseason game since moving over from Central Mass. at the start of the year.