OGLESBY – Morris coach Todd Kein knew his team needed to get off to a strong start facing the No. 1 seed on its home field with a Division I pitcher on the mound.
Morris did just that.
No. 7 seed Morris scored two runs in the first, then tacked on in three over the next four innings en route to an 8-2 victory over No. 1 seed La Salle-Peru in a Class 3A La Salle-Peru Regional semifinal at Dickinson Field.
“We knew that we needed to come out of the gate firing on all cylinders,” Kein said. “I think you saw that. We set the tone. The top of the first, I think the last thing they were expecting is us to put a couple across. That was obviously to our benefit. It gave us confidence.
“A lot of people didn’t give us much of a chance in this game, and I’m glad our guys showed up and opened some eyes because they’ve certainly earned it this year.”
In the first, A.J. Zweeres walked on four pitches to start the game and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Will Knapp.
Jack Wheeler singled to put runners on first and third, before Keegan Waters and Ryan Fischer delivered back-to-back RBI singles.
“We just had an attack mentality,” Kein said. “If you sit back and get behind against a kid like [Illinois recruit Julius Sanchez], he has a tendency to eat you alive. The last few days in practice we just put ourselves in attack mode. That’s what we trained for, and you saw it translate.”
The early two-run cushion gave Waters, a sophomore, confidence as he stepped on the mound in the bottom of the first.
“It was great,” Waters said. “You get more comfortable out there having some insurance. It was a good start.”
Waters retired the first two batters he faced then induced a fielder’s choice after he hit a batter.
Waters continued to shut out the Cavs over the next three innings, allowing only a single by Brady Romagnoli during the stretch.
The Cavs broke through in the fifth with a two-out, two-run single by Jack Scheri.
Waters threw a complete game, giving up two earned runs on three hits with seven strikeouts, two walks and two hit batters.
“I feel like I mixed my pitches well,” Waters said. “My location stayed pretty good. And the defense helped a lot. The outfielders made some diving plays. It was huge.”
Morris kept giving Waters more insurance, scoring one in the second on an RBI groundout by Wheeler, three in third with the help of two L-P errors and two more in the fifth on a two-run double by Wheeler.
“We just stayed with the same mentality of attacking early, driving the ball to the right side and just run and make them make errors,” Waters said.
Morris (16-14) will face Rock Island (21-12) in the championship at 11 a.m. Saturday. The No. 4 seed Rocks beat No. 5 seed Ottawa, 3-1, in Wednesday’s second semifinal.
Kein said that while the decision is not made, the chances are “probably pretty good” that Tennessee recruit Aidan Hayse will start for Morris.
“We expect a battle,” Kein said. “When there’s no tomorrow, everything is amplified. Every pitch is amplified. Every out is amplified. Every swing is amplified. We have to get our guys to just slow down and enjoy the moment first, then we have a couple days to prepare. I think you saw today this team is ready to compete.”
Sanchez took the loss for L-P, allowing six runs (four earned) on six hits with five strikeouts, four walks and a hit batter in three-plus innings.
Scheri, Romagnoli and Mason Lynch had a hit each for L-P (18-12).
“We did a lot of uncharacteristic things,” L-P coach Matt Glupczynski said. “We came out and I felt like we were nervous. We put a lot of extra pressure on ourselves that we didn’t need to. When you walk three or four guys, hit a couple guys and make three errors, that’s a recipe for disaster. And then to compound it, if you you don’t come out and swing it to match them, it’s tough.
“Even though we lost this game and it’s very disappointing, the guys have come a long way. There were a lot of tears in the huddle, and that shows that they really cared. They cared for the program, they cared for each other and they cared for what we’re trying to do here. I couldn’t be prouder of them and everything they accomplished. This loss doesn’t define us. Hopefully, for the young guys, it sticks in their craw and they’re ready to go next year. Hopefully for our seniors who are going on to play, they can learn from it.”