Dalton Morrow might not be Willard’s ace, but the senior left-hander certainly looked the part on Thursday.
Morrow threw an absolute gem against Harrison, Ark., the reigning 5A state champions. The senior left-hander’s line from the 5-0 shutout included a dozen strikeouts, three hits and two walks.
Utilizing a strong fastball and a couple off-speed pitches, Morrow kept the Goblins’ lineup guessing for most of the game.
“The change-up worked really good today,” Morrow said. “It had good sink on it, and I was really confident in that one today, for sure.”
It also helps when you’re able to pitch with an early lead. In the bottom of the first, Garyn Stewart drew a two-out walk, stole second and third on consecutive pitches and then scored on an error to give Willard a 1-0 lead.
The Tigers added to that total in the second. Ben Morris lined a leadoff single up the middle, and then scored three batters later on a sacrifice fly from Dakota Campbell.
Willard head coach Scott McGee stressed the importance of consistent scoring against dangerous, well-coached teams such as Harrison.
“It was good for us to do some little things offensively and get some runs on the board,” McGee said. “If we can score in four different innings, we feel like we’re going to be pretty good. To get one in the first and one in the second to give Dalton a little bit of a lead, he’s going to be pretty tough.”
While Morrow certainly was pretty tough through five innings, his sixth-inning performance reached another level.
After putting Harrison’s first two hitters on with a single and a walk, Morrow found himself in a nasty little jam. Harrison had speed at first and second, nobody out and the heart of the Goblin lineup coming up.
“I was trying to make a pitch, and I kept leaving it arm-side,” Morrow said. “I knew I needed to make an adjustment, so I got up and told myself to calm down. I looked over in the dugout, calmed down, took a deep breath and made the adjustment.”
Suffice to say, the simple strategy worked.
Morrow struck out the next three hitters in a row to end both the inning and Harrison’s rally. While McGee had a relief pitcher warming up just in case, he was quick to praise his starter’s gutsy performance.
“He faced their three best hitters with two guys on and nobody out,” McGee said. “That’s the thing with Dalton. He’s progressed so much in the last couple years with his mental toughness and his ability to handle adversity. The old Dalton, two years ago, would have just melted down, but he just got tough and struck the next three kids out and got us out of the inning.”
For Harrison and coach Greg Crow, the trip north proved beneficial as the team prepares for its postseason run. While freshman pitcher Carson Journagan threw admirably in defeat, the Goblins’ bats couldn’t find enough consistency to offer any run support.
“We’ve been struggling offensively for a while now,” Crow said. “I actually thought we got better in some situations. We were fouling more pitches off, and I thought our two-strike approach was better. We’re trying to build for next Thursday’s tournament and then go from there. We just have to hit and generate some offense so we’re not playing in one-run games all the time.”
A bright spot for the Goblins was leadoff-hitter Peyton Weber. The sophomore infielder went two-for-three with a pair of singles.
Harrison (18-9) finds itself in an ideal situation as both host for the 5A state tournament and number-two seed out of the West Division. Should the Goblins advance past Beebe in the first round, the draw becomes very favorable for the host team, according to Crow.
Willard (19-8), meanwhile, finishes its season and pre-district preparations with a gauntlet of state-ranked teams. On Friday, the Tigers travel to sixth-ranked Bolivar (4A). The following week features a Thursday-Friday set to close out the regular season with trips to seventh-ranked Carl Junction (4A) and sixth-ranked Kickapoo (5A).
Willard opens play in the Class 5, District 10 tournament on May 16th at home. The top-seeded Tigers will play the Waynesville-Rolla winner.
Willard – 5, Harrison – 0
Harrison 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0
Willard 1 1 0 0 1 2 x — 5