ANNA — The Melissa Cardinals jumped on Anna quickly on Friday, March 30, at the Anna Sports Complex, popping for three first-inning runs then marching to a 7-0 win behind a one-hit gem from pitcher Andrew Cole. The afternoon victory gave Melissa (3-1) sole possession of second place in District 11-4A, one game back of Princeton, while Anna (2-2) is locked in a tie for third with Bonham. Six district games remain.
Cole collected five strikeouts and walked two in shutting down the Coyotes and had more than ample offensive support. Brady Morrison led Melissa’s 11-hit attack, going 2-for-3 with a team-high 3 RBIs. Tate Whittington also went 2-for-3, with an RBI, and Isaiah Segovia had two hits in four at-bats. Whittington, Tyler Womack and Trevor Brooks each tallied a double and Morrison slapped a triple.
After their 3-0 start, the Cards kept up the pressure with a run in the third, two in the sixth and another in the seventh.
“Very rarely have we thrown a shutout and kind of cruised through a game against these guys,” Melissa head coach Jason Russell said, “so we can’t expect that anymore — or versus anyone in the district. We’ve got a lot of things we’ve still got to improve on. There’s a bunch of little things that we keep missing. That light switch hasn’t gone off yet and when it does I think we have a chance to be pretty good.”
Zach Howard went five innings on the mound for Anna, allowing eight hits, while striking out four with no walks. Jaden Adams came on for the final six outs and permitted three hits with a walk. Rawley Hector had the Coyotes’ lone hit, a third-inning single to right field.
“I thought they did a great job on their end,” Anna head coach Joey Hector said. “I thought Andrew pitched really well, kept us off balance, did a good job throwing strikes and competed hard. And I thought Zach threw well. I just think we didn’t show much grit, much competitiveness at the plate, and we had a bunch of defensive errors. A team like Melissa, they’re going to capitalize. They’re a good ball club.”
Is Hector concerned about the Coyotes’ bats with 4-0 Princeton up next? “I’m not concerned,” he said. “And the reason I tell you that is because we work hard every day. … In order to hit you’ve got to practice a lot of hitting. And I know my kids will respond to what happened today the right way the next couple of days and come back ready to play on Tuesday.”
“We’ve just to work harder than we do,” Howard said, “and we’ve got to be better at the plate and we’ve got to be better defensively. But we’ll overcome it. I think we work hard enough overcome it, as a team. I think we’ll be fine.”
“We’ve got to come back out Monday and practice and compete,” Rawley Hector said. “We’ve got to realize our identity. We’ve got figure out how we’re going to out-practice these guys today. I’ve got no doubt in my guys. We’re going to go out there and compete Tuesday.”
A fine sign for the Cards this day was Whittington ending his oh-fer-district-play drought at the plate. “It felt good,” he said of his swings. “I just tried to calm down. I’ve been thinking too much when I’ve been up at bat the last couple of games. The big key for me was just to calm down and play like I know how to play.” Whittington also noted that he’d injured a knee in the final non-district game and it had affected his stance and swing. “I’ve had trouble getting my weight on the back side, staying back. I’ve been out in front of everything. It’s been a lot better and I’ve been working on that a lot in practice.”
Melissa opened the game with three-straight singles from Bobby Houston, Segovia and Whittington for a 1-0 lead. After a ground-out to Howard, Morrison stepped in with his 2-RBI triple to right. Howard closed out the half-inning with back-to-back strikeouts.
Whittington’s double to the left field warning track got the Cards going in the third. Adam Davis followed with a single to right then Morrison brought Whittington home with sacrifice bunt.
In the sixth, Morrison opened with a single to right and moved to second on Cole’s sacrifice bunt. After a walk, Brooks’ double to left scored Morrison for a 5-0 Melissa lead. Dillon Youngblood then sent a one-out sacrifice fly to center field, scoring another run.
Womack’s two-out double to center in the seventh drove in Whittington for the Cards’ final run.
Cole’s one-hitter came with a good wind blowing in from center field. “It doesn’t make it difficult,” he said of a tailwind’s effect. “It makes me seem more confident because it makes me feel like I throw harder. And it makes my curve ball move a little bit more sometimes.”
As for the Melissa-Anna rivalry, Whittington said, “They’re a good group of guys but it’s always fun to beat them.” Cole added, “They come out ready to play with us and it’s always an exciting time because we’re always giving our best for these guys.”
Howard’s take: “I just kind of look at it as another team that we play that’s got a red hat on and a white jersey. I want to beat them just as bad as any other team. I think that’s how the team approaches it as well.”