North Myrtle Beach came into Thursday night with everything in its favor.
At home, against a lower-seeded team, with the chance at the all-important home-field advantage for the district finals on the line.
The Chiefs were no match for J.J. Mlodzinski.
The Hilton Head hurler and University of South Carolina commitment limited North Myrtle Beach to four hits en route to a 5-1 victory in the second round of the state playoffs.
“I figured we’d get better swings on the baseball,” Chiefs head coach Brian Alderson said. “That kid did a good job. You’ve got to tip your hat to him. He made pitches when he needed to make them. … There were a lot of early action outs. We got weak ground balls on first pitches. We weren’t patient enough to find good pitches to swing at.”
That was a bit of an understatement.
Mlodzinski needed just 86 pitches in the game. Those 86 pitches led to nine pop or foulouts, eight groundouts and four strikeouts. It was the epitome of efficiency for a kid with a well-known last name already tied to excellent mound efforts in this state.
His older brother, Carmen, is a sophomore at the University of South Carolina and is already being called one of the Top 50 prospects for the 2020 Major League Baseball first-year player draft.
J.J. Mlodzinski is also committed to the Gamecocks, and Thursday’s effort showed why the deliberate righty is getting so much attention.
“That was the biggest game of his life,” Hilton Head coach Ken Soucy said. “He’s been with me for three years. What you saw, we had to have. We had no one in the bullpen. We needed seven innings; he gutted it up and got it done against a very good baseball team. Position by position, they’re a better team us. But he was the difference tonight.”
Mlodzinski had two RBI in the team’s playoff opening victory against Aiken on Tuesday. It paled in comparison to his pitching against the Chiefs.
He went through 10 consecutive hitters in the middle innings without facing over the minimum. He also got the first out of the inning six times.
Hilton Head, which struck first in the opening inning thanks to a Chiefs error, then dropped four more in the sixth, thanks in part to two more North Myrtle Beach errors and a couple miscues that won’t show up in the scorebook.
Combined with Mlodzinski’s shutdown performance, it meant Hilton Head will now have three full days of rest before hosting the district finals on Monday with two chances to win one game and advance to the Class 4A lower state tournament.
North Myrtle Beach, meanwhile, will have to dig through the loser’s bracket, beginning Saturday with a home game against the Colleton County-Aiken winner.
“We’re talented enough to do it,” Alderson said. “Whether we do it or not, I guess time will tell. We’re definitely talented. We’ve got the character to get back in this thing and get to Hilton Head on Monday.”