Morris took the lead before it made an out Tuesday and held it to the finish in an 11-4 home victory over Rochelle Tuesday afternoon.
For much of the game, however, the Redskins were not as comfortable as those parameters would seem to stipulate. Their 3-0 lead after two innings nearly evaporated in the third, when the Hubs scored twice, and when Rochelle got two players on base in its half of the fourth, Morris looked to be in trouble.
Morris reliever Christian Niewinski, who came on for starter Nick Evola after a hard-hit ball by the Hubs sent Evola to the hospital in the first inning, got out of that jam. In the bottom of the fourth, some Rochelle errors set the table for Morris catcher Jake Capko, who hit a grand slam — the first of his career — to make the home team much more comfortable.
“With the bases loaded, I knew we had to have a hard-hit ball,” Capko said. “I got the kind of pitch I was looking for, a fastball on the outside part of the plate. I hit it out in front, but I got a lot of it, and it got up into the wind and carried out of here. ... When the wind is blowing out like this, it’s always a good day to hit.”
Evola struck out the first two batters he faced before getting ahead 0-2 on Rochelle’s Luke Manning. The next pitch was drilled and hit Evola squarely. In obvious pain, Evola was clearly conscious in the immediate aftermath of the incident; he tried to get up before being instructed to stay down by Morris coach Todd Kein. The game was delayed until an ambulance arrived, and Evola eventually walked to it on his own with EMTs by his side.
“We don’t know anything now, which obviously has made getting to now very difficult,” Kein said when asked about Evola after the game. “You obviously hope for the best. He was alert when it happened, which was a good sign.
But it’s extremely difficult to have that happen and then have to go back to playing baseball. I’m proud of how our guys handled an extremely difficult situation.”
Niewinski, who pitched an inning at Rochelle in Monday’s season opener, struck out T.J. Maynard to get out of that inning and navigated through a quiet second. Rochele touched him up for two runs on three hits in the third and added a pair of unearned runs in the fifth. Niewinski worked 4 2/3 innings in total, with a line that included six hits, two walks and four strikeouts.
“I definitely didn’t expect to pitch after three batters. That was a tough thing to see. I don’t really know what else to say about it,” Niewinski said. “I couldn’t let the team down. You have to go out there and throw strikes and keep them in position to win.”
Brock Kukman pitched the final two innings for Morris. He limited the Hubs to a lone hit.
“That’s one of the toughest spots a pitcher can be put into,” Kein said of Niewinski’s outing. “He was the obvious choice. When what happened happened, Christian was the first one out of the dugout, saying he was ready to go in and do the job. And he did it. Brock also did an excellent job behind him. It was good to see those pitchers step up when we needed them.”
Jason Matteson and Trevor Lines both singled and scored for the Redskins in the bottom of the first inning. In the second, they plated another run when Grant Schluntz came home on a Lines RBI groundout.
Grant Davis, Preston Miracle and Ryan Borgstrom all came home on the Capko slam in the fourth; Matteson and Lines had already scored in that inning. Schluntz added a sixth-inning RBI single to score courtesy runner Ricky Pelnarsh, and the final Redskin run was scored by Ryan Bernickus later that inning on a passed ball.