PRINCETON — Melissa’s Cardinals scrapped for two runs in the fifth inning to rally past Princeton, 2-1, on Tuesday, March 28, for a crucial, district road-win. It’s the sort of win, featuring dogged pitching, a key hit and heads-up base-running, that can boost a team’s fortunes — and one that Melissa head coach Jason Russell felt was coming.
“It’s the same stuff we talked about at the beginning of the year,” he said. “I thought we were going to pitch well, I thought we were going to play good defense and I thought our hitting would be what it was. Situationally, we came through, punched up and drove in some runs when we needed to.”
The Cards’ clutch pitching performance came via junior Brady Morrison, who went 6.2 innings, scattering three hits, walking two and striking out four. The key hit and heads-up play came from freshman Grayson Hurst, whose two-out single scored the tying run and whose subsequent head-first slide at home gave Melissa the lead.
The fifth inning was starting to look like things might not work out for the Cards as Hurst stepped to the plate. Down 1-0, they’d had two on with one out in the fourth but couldn’t get a run across. Now, with two outs and the tying running at third in Jake Burrow, Melissa desperately needed a base hit. Hurst delivered on a 1-1 pitch, slapping a hard single to left to tie the game.
“Really,” Hurst said, “I was just focusing on getting the ball in play in a gap, so I could score the runner.”
Next up was Dalton Vestal, who reached base on an error after a hard shot to the short stop. Morrison then walked to load the bases, bringing Tate Whittington to bat. After two balls to Whittington, a wild pitch offered Hurst a chance from third – and he took it. Diving at the plate, Hurst made it just under the tag in a “bang-bang” play for the go-ahead run.
“It was closer than I was hoping it would be, but I got the job done,” Hurst said.
“The catcher makes a great play, makes it closer than we thought it was going to be,” Russell added. “But that’s just Grayson being a great baseball player, and a ‘headsy’ player.”
Of the decision to send him, Russell said, “We talked about it. He’s such a fast guy, I said, ‘Anything outside the dirt, you’re going. Read it, make sure you’re 100 percent. We’re going to be really aggressive.’ Last year, we had the opportunity here … a passed ball and we don’t score that run. This year, a guy that just creates a lot of havoc on the bases, we were able to do that.”
Vestal and Hurst led Cardinal hitters this night with two hits each.
Princeton managed its lone run off Morrison in the first inning by way of a hit batsman who later scored on a double to right field. Adam Davis came on for Morrison in the seventh, with two outs, a runner on second and the winning run at the plate. On a 2-2 pitch, Davis got Adam Morton to fly-out to — who else? – Hurst in centerfield to end the game.
As for Morrison’s gem, what is he thinking as a tight game gets into late innings and his side is still scoreless? “Mainly, throwing strikes,” Morrison said, “getting balls in play, because I trust my defense. The main thing is just get it over the plate and let them hit it.”
Austin Hitchcock went the whole way for Princeton, permitting five hits and three walks while striking out five. The Panthers committed three errors to Melissa’s one.
“We lost some guys,” Russell said of the Cards’ season to date, “and now we’re finding guys to step up and replace roles. Brady Morrison’s not supposed to be in the rotation, but he’s thrown his tail off all year. And he’s kept us in ball games. It was time for us to go get him one. He didn’t have his best stuff today, but he gritted it out … and got them guessing.”
Morrison called the win “fantastic,” adding, “There’s nothing like beating Princeton. It just feels so great.”
Bonham gets by Coyotes late
The Bonham Warriors broke open a tie game in their last at-bat to defeat Anna, 7-5, on Tuesday, March 28, at the Anna Sports Complex. With the loss, the Coyotes remain winless in district play after three games.
Entering the top of the seventh tied at 5-5, Bonham opened with a double to right field, followed two batters later by an infield error that allowed the runner to score. Daniel Scott then came on for Anna starting pitcher Koy Harris, down, 6-5, with one out and one on. After a walk and a strike out, a Warrior single to left brought in the game’s final run. Anna had rallied from a 5-3 deficit with two outs in the bottom of the fourth. In that inning, Bonham walked the bases loaded for Harris who then singled to center, bringing home Fabian Balderas and Colton Brown.
The Coyotes led, 3-0, after two innings. Scott started that frame with a line-drive single to right and, after stealing second, moved to third when Good bunted safely. Scott then scored when Jeran Lewis grounded out to second. Good put Anna up, 2-0, when he scored on a pick-off attempt at third and an error. Later, Lawrence Goade added another run with a single to center that scored Balderas from second.
Harris worked 6.1 innings on the mound, allowing seven hits and one walk while striking out six. Coyote hitters collected seven hits on the night, with Scott tallying a team-high two. Zach Howard and Jacob Williams also had one hit each for Anna.