OTTAWA — Wednesday’s Class 3A Ottawa Baseball Regional semifinal game could be viewed as a microcosm of the seasons that the involved teams have put together.
For Coal City, which was eliminated with a 3-2 loss to the Redskins, it was a frustrating end to a frustrating 12-16 season. The Coalers left the bases loaded twice without scoring, allowed Morris starter Preston Miracle to pitch five scoreless innings despite his issuing eight walks and had the potential go-ahead run nullified in the seventh on a controversial call.
For Morris, which is 27-6 heading into Saturday’s championship game, it was another case of finding a way to win. After the Coalers tied the game in the top of the seventh, the Redskins quickly rallied in the bottom half to win. Grant Davis hit a ball to the left-field wall to score Jason Matteson with the winning run.
“I think that’s what we’ve done — we do the little things that make the difference,” Miracle said. “We play good defense. We have good pitching. When we get guys on, we get ‘em over and get ‘em in. We find a way.”
Down 2-0 with one out in the top of the seventh, the Coalers got successive singles from Lane Cowherd, Nate Natyshok and Dylan Hakey against Morris reliever Nick Evola to load the bases. A Joey Quinn groundout to second ended the shutout and allowed Natyshok and Hakey to move into scoring position with two outs. DJ Budde followed with a single to right field. Natyshok scored the tying run, but Hakey was ruled out trying to score the go-ahead run.
“I thought I was safe,” Hakey said, “but there’s nothing you can do about it. We hadn’t caught a break the whole game and there was another one that went against us. ... We’ve lost a lot by one run. What can you do? A lot of people say (Morris is) one of the best teams in 3A, and we put their backs against the wall.”
Morris leadoff hitter Jason Matteson greeted Coal City pitcher Brad Littleton, who was pitching his seventh inning, by laying down a bunt single to begin the bottom of the seventh. Matteson made the decision to bunt himself.
“It was really risky. I’m lucky I wasn’t out because then I would have been scared,” Matteson said. “Sometimes in a tie game, the team that takes the risk is the one that gets the reward. I felt that was one worth taking.”
Trevor Lines bunted the first pitch he saw back to Littleton, successfully sacrificing Matteson to second base. The third pitch of the inning was also put in play, as Davis ripped a Littleton fastball over the head of Natyshok in left field. Matteson scored without a play.
“In that situation, I knew I had to help my team. I wanted to help out our pitchers. They were doing their job and we weren’t doing our part,” Davis said. “It also went through my mind that this could be my last at-bat of my high school career. With all of that going on, I think I found some extra energy. ... It felt great. The best ones are when you barely feel it, and that’s how it was. It was a perfect pitch for that swing.”
“It was a textbook bunt by Trevor, and that put us in a great position with our 3-4-5 hitters coming up,” Morris coach Todd Kein said. “It seems like whenever we get the big hits like that, Grant Davis is the guy. That’s why he’s our three hitter.”
Coal City left a total of 10 runners stranded on base. In the third inning, Quinn hit a ball to the gap in left-center with the bases loaded and two outs that Matteson sprinted for and made a diving catch. A two-on, one-out situation in the fourth ended when pinch-hitter Joe Micetich lined into a double play. In the fifth, another bases-loaded chance ended quietly with a groundout.
“We’ve had some games where we booted the ball around and that led to our demise. That wasn’t the case today,” Coal City coach Jerry McDowell said after an error-free game by both teams.
“We could have had the lead on a close play at the plate. I saw daylight there, and I’m biased, but the umpire thought (Morris catcher Jake Capko) got (Hakey) on the shoulder. I saw daylight in there. The Matteson kid made a great play. That saved three runs — it would have gotten into the gap. Their left fielder (Davis) knocked down a ball that would have scored another run if we hadn’t have done that.
“It was a closely-played game, a great high school ballgame to watch if you’re a neutral observer, but it’s another one that didn’t go our way.”