Timing is everything
MORGAN TOWNSHIP — There was a pinch of controversy in Morgan Township’s 4-3 come-frome-behind victory over LaCrosse in the opening round of the Porter County Conference Tournament on Monday evening. But Tigers coach Chris McGowen’s frustrations lied more with the same issues that have plagued his team all season long.
Trailing by a run after Joe Rubarts’ two-out, two-run base hit up in the middle that springboarded the Cherokees from down 3-2 to up 4-3 in the bottom half of the sixth inning, the Tigers got a leadoff walk by Kaleb Frazier to start the seventh. Bradley Tucker popped out to the pitcher for the first out, but Morgan starter Hunter Swivel walked Nate Jones and then hit Brandon Brust on his 121st pitch of the contest to load the bases.
Despite being over the pitch count limit that was put into place by the IHSAA a few seasons ago, Swivel proceeded to pitch to Zach Brust, who struck out looking for Swivel’s 13th punchout of the game, and then got Jesse Rhoda to hit into a 6-4 fielders choice to end the game, leaving the eighth, ninth and 10th men on base.
“We can talk about the kid being over the pitch limit and stuff, and he was, but once again, we didn’t come up with a two-out hit,” McGowen said. “That’s been our main problem all season, timely hits and two-out hits. (Swivel) pitched a great game for them. We led the whole way and just couldn’t find a way to win it in the end.”
McGowen attempted to reach LaCrosse Athletic Director Dave Amor after the contest to inquire about the pitch count violation, but Amor was coaching the softball Tigers in their 26-7 victory over Argos on Monday and was unavailable.
The Tigers roared out to a 2-0 advantage in the game’s opening half-inning after four consecutive hits from their 2-3-4-5 hitters, including an RBI single by Jones and an RBI double by Brandon Brust, who doubled twice and reached base in three of his four plate appearances. LaCrosse had the chance to blow the game wide open in the second when they loaded the bases with two away, but Swivel fanned Tucker to end the threat, leading to the Cherokees knotting the game up at 2-2 after three walks and a single given up by Jones, who was pulled for Frazier in the third.
“Our guys really battled,” Morgan coach John Smith said. “We didn’t quit when we got down a couple runs early. I liked seeing that aspect from us. We had a couple hits here and there that kinda won us the game. We put some pressure on them, got a couple baserunners on and the one big hit by Joe Rubarts kinda gave us that life to finish it off in the seventh. Credit to Hunter for getting us through tonight. He didn’t have his best stuff, but he hung in there and got the job for us tonight.”
LaCrosse regained their advantage after Devin McCoy reached with two outs and leadoff man Kyle Gorski reached on a fielding error by Swivel. McCoy attempted to steal third with Frazier at the plate, leading to Cherokees catcher Bubba Anderson misfiring on a throw down that scored McCoy to make it 3-2 in the fourth.
Both Frazier and Swivel dominated the contest in a game of one-upsmanship until the home half of the sixth, as Frazier struck out six (including five in a row) in the fourth and fifth innings, helping the Tigers hold the 6-7-8-9 hitters for Morgan to an 0-for-12 performance at the plate with 11 punchouts. Swivel only allowed a second double to Brandon Brust in that same timeframe, striking out five.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy today,” Swivel said. “We just played them on Friday (a 2-1 Morgan win) and I pitched that game, too. I knew they will have seen me two times in four days, so I knew I had to keep changing it up to keep them off-balanced. My teammates did a good job of giving me some run support late and we got a win.”
Frazier got two quick outs to start the sixth, but the top of the Morgan order came through with a little bit of help. Jones missed a routine pop fly at second base that would’ve ended the inning, putting Nate Hudkins on. Frazier walked Mason Kemp and then Swivel to bring up Rubarts, leading to the sophomore drilling a hard groundball through the middle and scoring both Hudkins and Kemp before the Tigers’ big chance fizzled out in the seventh.
“We didn’t come up with any two-out hits again. I don’t know how many times we had guys on with two outs and couldn’t get a hit. They had a two-out single that scored two runs in the sixth and that was the difference in the ballgame,” McGowen said. “We missed an easy flyball at second base with two outs, too. If (Jones) doesn’t miss that, we’re not even talking about that hit and we probably win this game. We just didn’t do the things we needed to after leading the whole way tonight. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
McGowen spoke Tuesday on the pitch count situation in a phone call and said that the schools have discussed the situation and that LaCrosse was planning to contact the IHSAA on a solution regarding whether or not Morgan or LaCrosse, via a potential official forfeit ruling for the violation, will play Boone Grove in the PCC Tournament semifinals on Wednesday.
“It’s kinda like in basketball on a given night. A kid can only play five quarters a night and it’s a forfeit if he plays that sixth quarter,” McGowen said. “That’s basically what the pitch count thing is. You’re only allowed 120 pitches and the only way you’re allowed to go over that count is if he’s before that number before the at-bat or in the middle of an at-bat, then he can finish it, but that’s it. I was the one that made it known to them and the umpires that he hit that limit. (The umpires) don’t keep that count. It’s on us coaches to kinda police that.”
Porter County Conference Tournament
Morgan Township 4, LaCrosse 3
Nate Jones and Kaleb Frazier combined to strike out 15 hitters on Monday.