Triumphant return for Panthers’ Milner

Neosho’s Matt Milner returned to the lineup for the Panthers Sunday.

Matt Milner was having a banner season when a slide into second base nearly ended it for him. He broke a bone in his left hand when it jammed into the bag.

Luckily for the Neosho County (Kan.) Community College sophomore, the Panthers qualified for the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series for a second straight year. That extended his season just long enough that he got to play again.

After missing seven weeks with a hand injury, Milner started as Neosho’s designated hitter in the Panthers’ first-round game Sunday night against Cochise (Ariz.) College.

He went 1 for 3.

Better yet, Neosho won 2-1, meaning the Panthers will play at least two more games in the double-elimination tournament.

“I got cleared on Monday (May 20) to start swinging again, take some BP (batting practice), and it felt good all week,” Milner said. “It’s a little faster-paced when you get into a game, but I started feeling like I’m settling in, so it’s better.”

His first at-bat came in the second inning and didn’t go the way he wanted.

“I’m normally an aggressive hitter, swing-at-the-first-pitch kind of guy,” Milner said. “I watched a fastball, a pitch I normally should drive, and I was a little slow, couldn’t pull the trigger on it.”

He grounded out to the first baseman.

He liked the result much better in his second at-bat, a solid single up the middle, but his critique suggested he expects more from himself.

“I fouled two pitches off,” Milner said, meaning that was disappointing. “But it was the first hit of the series, first hit in a while. It feels good.”

Neosho County coach Steve Murry said that single was nothing from a young man who was batting .388 when the injury occurred.

“I’ll tell you,” Murry said, “when he starts squaring balls up, you’ll know in a hurry.”

Milner was starting at second base before the injury, but he won’t play in the field during the tourney.

Besides, Milner said, pointing to his replacement Justin Warne, “We have this guy playing second base. He’s pretty good.”

So, playing DH is fine because playing at all is good, especially in the JUCO World Series.

“I didn’t play much last year, but I was here and kind of knew what to expect,” Milner said.

Murry is glad to get him back in the lineup.

“He’ll get better as the week goes, and I have full faith in him,” Murry said. “And I’m glad he got that under his belt, and we got a win out of it.”


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