OTTAWA — Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference West Division member La Salle-Peru is all that stands between Morris and its first regional championship in baseball since 2003.
After the Redskins advanced to the final with a 3-2 win over Coal City Wednesday, they did not know who their opponent would be. They knew it would be a team from the NIB12 division opposite their own. La Salle-Peru and Ottawa played in Thursday’s other semifinal, with the Cavaliers winning 3-2.
Either way, the Redskins were expecting to have their hands full Saturday at 10 a.m.
“We’ll have to play a team that will have just beaten a rival. It’s certainly a rivalry game that just happens to fall in a regional,” Morris coach Todd Kein said. “Whichever team comes on top figures to enter the game with a lot of momentum.”
Morris defeated Ottawa 5-3 on April 3 and did not play L-P. But in terms of coming into Saturday fresh off a win over a geographic rival, the Redskins knew they would be in a similar spot as their opponent.
Wednesday’s win was the third for the Redskins over Coal City this season, and by far the most closely contested. They won 8-3 at Coal City on April 11. Then, after they knew they would see the Coalers again in the postseason, they learned their final regular-season game, scheduled to be against Batavia on May 13, would fall through only the night before. Morris quickly scheduled the Coalers to fill in instead and defeated them 15-4.
On Wednesday, it would be difficult to make the case that the Redskins were definitively the better team. Each team had eight hits, and freshman Coal City pitcher Brad Littleton walked two batters on a night Morris pitchers walked eight. Neither team made an error. Timeliness of hitting — the Coalers stranded 10 runners on base to the Redskins’ seven — was the main reason for the result.
“At the beginning of the game, we took the lead, and knowing how we did against them this season, I think we started to take them for granted,” Grant Davis, who had the winning RBI in the bottom of the seventh, said. “As the game went on, and they made it obvious they weren’t going away, we ended up having to win a really tough game. I have a lot of respect for Coal City after this one. It’s a good win for us, and no matter who we play (Saturday), we’ll be ready to go.”
The Redskins also got a taste of the sort of high-leverage situations that can be the difference between advancing and going home. Coal City scored twice in the top of the seventh inning to tie the game — and would have scored at least one more run had Dylan Hakey not been thrown out at the plate by right fielder Austin Conrod following a DJ Budde single. The Davis hit was the culmination of a textbook Morris answer, one that included a Jason Matteson leadoff single and a Trevor Lines sacrifice bunt, in the bottom half of the inning.
“As the game progressed, and there was less and less room for error, it was hard not to feel the pressure on our team,” Kein said. “Those are tough positions for the guys to be in, and they’re positions you face regularly in the postseason. For the most part, I’m very impressed with the way we handled them today.
“At some point Saturday, it’s almost a given that our backs will be against the wall, just as Ottawa or L-P will have their backs against the wall as well. Whichever team is able to get that last big hit or make that last big pitch or play in the field will probably prevail as a result. That’s postseason baseball.”