Champion City Kings fighting for playoff spot

Champion City Kings pitcher Cade Kontny throws a pitch during their game against the Johnstown (Pa.) Mill Rats on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022 at Carleton Davidson Stadium in Springfield. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER

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Champion City Kings pitcher Cade Kontny throws a pitch during their game against the Johnstown (Pa.) Mill Rats on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022 at Carleton Davidson Stadium in Springfield. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER

SPRINGFIELD — For the second straight season, the Champion City Kings are fighting for a spot in the Prospect League playoffs.

The Kings — a collegiate wooden bat summer team — have won seven of their last nine games and trail the Johnstown (Pa.) Mill Rats by two games with three games to play in the Ohio River Valley Division second half standings.

“It shows the resiliency of these guys,” said Kings manager Gavin Murphy. “It’s a long summer. It takes guts to stay and gut it out. For the guys that are still here, kudos to them. It’s not easy. I applaud them for coming out every day and giving me what they got, especially when I know they’re tired. It’s been a long, grueling summer and the first half wasn’t good. They want a chance at the playoffs. They come out and give me what they’ve got every day. It just speaks to the character of the kids that are still here.”

The Kings host Johnstown at 6:35 p.m. Thursday at Carleton Davidson Stadium with a chance to gain ground in the standings before traveling first-half champion Chillicothe (Ohio) Paints on Friday night. The Kings finish the regular season at home against Chillicothe at 6:35 p.m. Saturday.

The second-half winner will travel to first-half winner Chillicothe for the Ohio River Valley Division championship game at a time to be determined on Sunday.

On Wednesday night, the Kings nearly pulled even in the standings. Champion City led 6-2 in the fifth inning, but the Mill Rats scored three runs in the seventh and one each in the eighth and ninth innings to earn a 7-6 come-from-behind victory. Evan Lorey, Trey Carter, Edrick Padilla and Ben Stuart each had two hits for the Kings.

“The biggest thing is when you get a chance, you’ve got to do your job,” Murphy said. “The turning point in the game was when we had bases loaded with one out (in the seventh inning) and didn’t score. That hurts. … We didn’t catch any breaks either, but you can’t put that game on anybody but us. We had it, it was ours, but we just didn’t get it.”

Entering Thursday’s game, the Mill Rats are 14-11 in the second half, two games ahead of the Kings (12-13). Johnstown also owns the playoff tiebreaker, claiming the head-to-head season series against Champion City.

“It’s make or break,” Murphy said “We’ve got to win. The biggest thing is getting these guys to rest up and understand that we can’t put any pressure on ourselves and just come out and have fun. That’s what we’ve been doing the last couple weeks and we’ve got to keep doing it.”

The Kings are seeking their second straight playoff berth. Last season, the Kings advanced to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, beating Chillicothe 10-9 to win the Prospect League Ohio River Valley Division Championship. The Kings fell 15-5 at Lafayette in the Eastern Conference championship game.

Champion City knows it will need to keep winning and get some help to make another playoff run.

“We’re coming together and finding ways to win games,” Murphy said. “That’s what we’ve got to do these next three games.”

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