MORRISON – Get up early. Do work. Reap the benefits.
Saturday’s 2A Morrison Regional championship was just another morning in the life of farmboy Kenneth Cole.
Cole’s Erie-Prophetstown Panthers (18-9) got him up early, and the hulking southpaw rode the support to a 1-0 victory over fellow co-Three Rivers champ Morrison at the Mustangs’ sports complex.
After the first of the lefty’s three 1-2-3 innings, Zach Hart scored in the bottom of the first. He drew a walk, swiped second and, after Kyle Coleman drew a free pass from lefty Bill Lee Greul (5-2) and Jordan Chandler fanned, Owen McConnell banged an RBI single back where it came from.
“[Gruel]’s got really good velocity,” McConnell said, “so all I tried to do was cut my swing down and get the bat to the ball.”
The rest was a southpaw duel for the ages that featured five total hits. The game played out in just 84 minutes.
Cole (5-1) struck out seven and took a no-hitter into the fifth, in which Morrison (15-6) freshman Isaiah Bailey hit a high-hopper to Carter Ames at third. With Bailey pounding down the line, Ames charged and air-mailed the throw, allowing Bailey to take second.
Chandler got caught out of position trying to hold the dancing Bailey on second, and Triston Houzenga beat a worm-burner through the vacated hole at short.
The no-hit bid was far from Cole’s mind.
“I don’t really worry about anything but throwing strikes,” he said. “I want them to have to earn everything. I just worry about getting the ball over the plate, then trust my fielders.”
More importantly than the no-no going bye-bye was the Mustangs flipping their lineup to leadoff man Danny Willis. But Cole got him to line out to short and then induced a popup from Alex Volckmann to end the threat.
In the preceding fourth inning, Volckman had drawn a leadoff walk and stole second before Cole got three outs. While his catcher, Zach Inskeep, says Cole doesn’t have a true 12-6 curve, it certainly had the Mustangs off balance as Cole pounded his spots.
After Joey Brackemeyer spanked a single to right center in the sixth, Morrison third baseman Brock Deter stayed back on a curve and ripped it down the first baseline. It had some tail and glanced off McConnell’s glove. He retrieved it about 10 feet from the bag and won a foot race with Deter, despite the All-Area linebacker’s headfirst slide.
No fear, right, Mr. McConnell?
“I saw him in football, so I’m kind of used to him coming at me,” McConnell said.
In the seventh, Cole saved his best two yackers for last, fanning the No. 9 hitter Houzenga with a quality snapdragon that fell out of the zone.
“That (italics) was a great curveball,” Inskeep said.
“The last two were probably his best,” E-P coach Jason Orman said. “He got some really good bite on those last two. We did not want to get around to the top in that situation.”
Greul settled in after issuing three walks in the first two innings to strike out 12 and allow just three hits.
“I just had to relax, take a deep breath and focus, and it started coming to me,” Greul said.
He struck out nine of 12 batters between the first and fifth innings and struck out five in a row at one point, three of them looking at a filthy curve that complemented his explosive heater.
“That’s the poise that he’s got,” Morrison coach Ben Sondgeroth said. “Watching him settle in, it was fun to watch him go out and dominate their lineup.
“But Cole pitched a heck of a game. He threw his butt off, and you can’t do anything but tip your cap.”
Star of the game: Kenneth Cole, E-P, 2-hitter, 7 SO, 2 BB
Key performers: Bill Lee Greul, Morrison, 6 IP, 3 H, 12 SO, 3 BB; Owen McConnell, E-P, game-winning RBI 1B in 1st
Up next: 2A Byron Sectional semifinal – Morrison vs. Oregon, 4 p.m. Wednesday