For eight innings, the Morris Redskins got away with a double-digit disparity in baserunners between them and Plainfield Central in their home opener Wednesday afternoon.
Allowing the Wildcats to regularly reach base — and not scoring themselves — finally caught up with the Redskins in the ninth. Three unearned runs scored in the top half of that inning as Central, which opened its season, defeated Morris 4-1 in varsity baseball.
Central second baseman Christian Armstrong drew a walk from Morris reliever Christian Niewinski leading off the ninth. Armstrong got to second base on a Blake Kerzich sacrifice bunt and to third on a Matt Ryan groundout. Niewinski then got Cameron Jones to hit a ground ball that skipped between the legs of Morris third baseman Preston Miracle as Armstrong scored easily. Jason Kenealy and Austin Blazevic added to the damage with back-to-back RBI doubles.
“Some things down the stretch were probably amplified because of when they happened,” Morris coach Todd Kein said, “But in my mind, inning to inning, pitch to pitch, there were a number of things that did not go our way, and we need to do a better job of capitalizing on our opportunities.”
Morris left just five runners on base, but the Redskins were 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position. Their only run scored in the fourth. Austin Conrod reached on an error, went to second base on a wild pitch, went to third on a Miracle infield single and scored on a Ryan Borgstrom sacrifice fly.
Wildcats starting pitcher Nick Rana needed 96 pitches to get through eight innings. He struck out nine, allowed just the one unearned run on four hits and walked one — intentionally.
“He didn’t walk anybody,” Central coach John Rosner said, when asked what had worked for Rana. “On a day where it’s obviously cold and nobody was really driving the ball into the outfield and the gaps, throwing strikes was key.
He alternated his breaking ball with his fastball and was able to keep them pretty well off balance.”
Miracle started for the Redskins, and while he held Central to one earned run in 3 2/3 innings, he walked five and hit a batter. He threw 99 pitches, 53 of which were strikes.
“Preston has a tough job, and while he doesn’t make excuses because of it, he’s a spotlight player,” Kein said. “People expect him to be perfect ... and he’s a high school kid. As good as he is, he’d be the first to tell you he’s not perfect. He didn’t have his best stuff, and he threw too many pitches.”
Central had already scored once in the fourth and had a runner on second with two outs when Drew Aldrich relieved Miracle. Aldrich fanned Kezich to get out of the jam and went on to pitch 4 1/3 scoreless innings.
“Getting out of that inning gave me confidence that carried over to the rest of the game,” Aldrich said. “I felt great out there. ... I had a good rhythm and I hit my spots. I had all of my pitches working. I felt my pitches were moving the way I’d like them to be.”