In his first game back from getting hit in the face by a batted ball, resulting in a broken nasal cavity, Morris pitcher Nick Evola surrendered five runs Tuesday.
Evola allowed Kaneland one run in the six innings that followed, and the Redskins slowly built up enough support for Evola to get the win. A fifth-inning sacrifice fly by Austin Conrod brought home Matt Bernickus for the go-ahead run in a 7-6 Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference East home win for the Redskins.
"We've been down before and have come back for some dramatic wins," Morris coach Todd Kein said. "We haven't been behind by that much that quickly. This situation was different. We told the guys that to not try to make it up all at once. We had time. We had to work our way back, and that's exactly what happened. I'm proud of the kids."
During the top of the first, Evola gave up two hits — a Tyler Bellock leadoff infield single and a Josh Cohrs RBI double — and walked two batters. The Redskins made two errors, rendering just two of the five runs earned. Evola made 37 pitches.
It took a total of 12 pitches for Evola to get through the next two innings, which were perfect. He allowed a pair of singles and a run in the fourth, ending a string of eight straight retired, but bounced back to hold Kaneland scoreless in the final three innings. For the game, Evola threw 94 pitches, 30 of which were strikes.
"After that first, it was a little bit," Evola said, when asked if his confidence had been shaken. "Coach pulled me aside and told me to forget about it, that I had to ease my way back into things. ... The guys played great defense behind me. (Shortstop) Trevor Lines was all over the place."
Morris got one run back in the bottom of the first on a Grant Davis single, which plated Lines. In the second, two runs scored thanks to a Kaneland error and a Jason Matteson RBI double.
Down 6-3 in the fourth, the Redskins got back-to-back singles from Bernickus and Grant Schluntz, a sacrifice bunt from Conrod and a Matteson RBI groundout. Schluntz then scored on a wild pitch. Kaneland starter Anthony Holubecki and reiever Curtis Thorson combined to walk the bases loaded with two outs, but Thorson escaped further damage.
Jake Capko led off the bottom of the sixth with a walk, and Bernickus attempted to sacrifice courtesy runner Kyle Hill to second base. It appeared that he was going to beat out the bunt anyway, but an errant throw on the play allowed Hill to score and Bernickus to go all the way to third base.
With the infield in, Thorson induced a ground ball to second base for the first out of the inning. Conrod then hit a fly ball to shallow center field. Bernickus tagged on the play, and while the throw beat him home, he slid around a Cohrs tag to score, though there was some controversy over whether or not he had touched home plate.
"Yes, I did. I got the corner," Bernickus said when asked if he had gotten the plate. "(Kein) told me I was going to go on anything hit in the air. When it was hit, I saw how shallow it was, but he told me to go anyway. ... (The slide) was a natural reaction."
Despite its fast start, Kaneland finished with just five hits and two walks against Evola. Nobody in the Knights' lineup had multiple hits.
"We find ways to let (leads) slip out of our hands," Kaneland coach Brian Aversa said. "My hats off to their pitcher. He shut us down for the final six innings and did a hell of a job after the first."