COAL CITY – In a battle for pride, possible regional seeding and Grundy County bragging rights, the Morris and Coal City baseball teams squared off Saturday at Cullick Field in their annual friendly rivalry game.
It was yet another tightly contested game, the type of which both sides have come to expect from the other, with Coal City pulling out a 3-2 victory, the winning run scoring with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
Both teams threw their aces – Payton Hutchings for Coal City and Jacob Overbeck for Morris. Neither pitcher disappointed as they matched each other out for out throughout the day. Hutchings finished with his usual high number of strikeouts – 14 in seven innings – while Overbeck was surgeon-like in his precision, moving the ball in and out, up and down, and keeping the Coaler hitters off balance.
In the end, it was a player seeing his first action of the day who decided it.
In the bottom of the seventh, after Morris had tied it up at 2 in the top half on an RBI double to center by Cole Laurie that scored Cody Bledsoe, Coal City’s Gavin Elrod stepped in to pinch-hit for Drew Moir with teammate Mickey McDowell on second and Cam Lander on first with two outs.
Elrod drove the first pitch he saw hard on the ground toward third. It hopped over Logan Edwards’ glove, tipping it on the way past to cause it to be scored an error. The ball continued into left field, where Laurie fielded it and threw home, but not in time to beat the speeding McDowell, who was off with the crack of the bat.
“I was just looking for a fastball when I got up there and I got one,” Elrod said.
“I was able to put in play hard. That’s all I was trying to do.
“We like to play in close games like this, the nail-biters. We don’t care who it is that comes through, as long as someone does. Today, it was my turn.”
The win pushed the Coalers’ record to 14-2, while Morris fell to 9-5.
Morris had a golden opportunity to get to Hutchings early. Laurie, who had two of Morris’ four hits, led off the game with a solid single to left. Patrick McCabe then bunted, and the throw pulled the Coal City first baseman off the bag, putting runners on first and second. Overbeck then laid down a successful sacrifice bunt, and Morris had runners on second and third with one out. Hutchings, though, bore down and struck out the next two Morris hitters to end the threat. He then struck out the side in the next inning and the leadoff hitter in the third, giving him six straight strikeouts.
“If we could have gotten a run or two across in the first inning, it changes things,” Kein said. “We let him [Hutchings] off the hook. He’s too good for us to do that. We needed to get to him early, and we knew that. Early in the game and early in the counts. We let too many fastballs go by us without attacking. Once a pitcher like that has two strikes on you, he’s got you.
“I want to take nothing away from how he pitched today, because he threw the ball well. We made him better by not following through with what our offensive plan was.”
Meanwhile, Overbeck was matching Hutchings out for out, except for a two-run rally by Coal City in the bottom of the second. Austin Pullara led off with a double to center and Connor Best singled him in, with Best reaching second on the throw home. After a pop to short, a grounder to second by Mickey McDowell moved Best to third, and Cam Lander singled to score Best for a 2-0 Coal City lead. Coal City did not score again until the bottom of the seventh.
“Jacob certainly deserved better,” Kein said. “He threw a great game for us and kept us in it all the way.”
“It’s always a great game when we get together,” Coal City coach Greg Wills said. “That’s exactly the type of game we want to play. It will help get us ready for the postseason and it shows us what we need to get better at.
“The nice thing about our team this year is that it could be anyone who comes through. For us to come back after they tied it on us in the top of the seventh shows our character. No one hung their heads. They just went and did what they could to help us win. Gavin Elrod came off the bench and put the ball in play hard. That’s all we can ask for in that situation, and that’s what he did.”