Baseball: Morris clinches Interstate 8 Conference title with win over Kaneland

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MORRIS – Jack Wheeler knew what he was looking for, and he got it.

In the third inning Wednesday, Wheeler and his Morris teammates were leading Kaneland 6-3 in the second game of a three-game Interstate 8 Conference series. Wheeler, a University of Illinois commit, had runners on first and third when he came to the plate.

Kaneland was called for a balk, which allowed AJ Zweeres to score from third and moved courtesy runner Steven Wagner to second. With a 1-0 count, Wheeler got the pitch he was looking for and deposited it over the fence in left-center to give Morris a 9-3 lead en route to a 12-4 victory that clinched the I-8 title for the second straight season.

“He threw me a fastball up for a ball to make it 1-0,” Wheeler said. “I knew he was leaving his fastball up, so I was looking for one up there. I got one right where I like it, and I was ready for it. With the wind blowing out to left, I knew I had to elevate it a little bit.

“It feels great to clinch the conference title, especially two years in a row, but that’s just one of many goals we have. We aren’t done yet by any means.”

Morris (22-3, 12-1 I-8) got on the board in the bottom of the first after starter Brett Bounds held Kaneland (15-10, 9-5) scoreless in the top half.

AJ Zweeres led off with a walk, then stole second and went to third on a throwing error. Bounds followed with an RBI single. Courtesy runner Logan Zdanwic was caught stealing before Wheeler (2 for 3, 3 RBIs) walked and Cody Del Favero followed suit. Griffin Zweeres singled to left to score Wheeler, and Merek Klicker (2 for 4) singled down the third base line to plate Del Favero for a 3-0 lead.

Kaneland answered in the top of the second. Anthony Campise walked to lead off the inning, and Preston Popovich singled with one out. A single by Dylan Borysiewicz brought home Campise before Popovich scored on a fielder’s choice to short by Michael Layne.

Morris got a run back in the bottom of the second on an RBI single by Wheeler, scoring AJ Zweeres, who led off by reaching on an error. Morris broke it open with a five-run third, all of the runs coming with two outs.

The first two Morris hitters made outs to start the third before Colin Pfeifer and Caston Norris singled. AJ Zweeres singled to left to bring home Pfeifer, and Bounds (2 for 3, 3 RBIs) singled in Norris. The Knights appeared to have picked off Wagner at first but were called for a balk, scoring Zweeres and setting up the Wheeler home run that put Morris ahead 9-3.

“This was a tough day,” Kaneland coach Brian Aversa said. “When you walk 11 hitters and give up 10 hits, you can’t do that against any team, let alone a team as good as Morris. That balk call put us behind the eight ball. We could have been out of the inning, but they ended up scoring three more.

“We did have a couple of guys – Antonio Villanueva and Wesley Hollis – come in and throw well. We had some chances, but we left runners on base. We’ll learn from this, try to get stronger and hope to salvage the series.”

Morris got two more runs in the fourth on an RBI single by Norris and a sacrifice fly by AJ Zweeres before capping the scoring in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Bounds.

“A lot of people notice how well our guys hit the ball,” Morris coach Todd Kein said. “What I am impressed with is how disciplined we are, especially with two strikes. Our numbers with two strikes are outstanding. That’s a sign of being a varsity hitter instead of being just some guy with a bat. We have a lot of varsity hitters.

“I really felt like Caston Norris was the player of the game, for me. He made a couple of great defensive plays in right field, and he turned the lineup over as the No. 9 hitter. He is very good at getting on base, and that’s why we bat him there. He gets the run producers to the plate with somebody on.

“I was also happy to see Brett Bounds gut this one out. He will be the first to tell you he wasn’t at his best today, but he gave us six good innings.”

Rob Oesterle

Rob Oesterle

Rob has been a sports writer for the Morris Herald-News and Joliet Herald-News for more than 20 years.