Pictured: Morgan’s Sean Green was part of a seventh-inning rally that led to the Huskies’ 4-3 victory over Portland. (Photo by Danny Atkinson)
By Danny Atkinson
CLINTON — During its 1-7 start to the season, Morgan’s baseball team consistently demonstrated an inability to win close games and execute defensively. With the Huskies in danger of not missing the postseason, they have responded to the challenge to say the least.
Morgan has significantly improved defensively and on the mound and in executing small-ball tactics like stealing bases and bunting. Entering Wednesday night’s game against Portland, the team had won five of eight to reach 6-10 and put itself in good position to get the eight wins needed to qualify for the state tournament.
The Huskies’ development and newfound mental toughness was on display in a challenging game with the Highlanders. After Portland tied it at 3 in the top of the seventh on a throwing error, Morgan escaped a bases-loaded jam. In the bottom of the frame, it recovered from having a runner thrown out to fill the bases on walks with two outs. Senior captain Bailey Goss was the hero, drawing a third consecutive walk from Yandel Rivera for a 4-3 win.
Morgan improves to 7-10 with three games remaining over the next six days. The Huskies bounced back from a 17-4 loss to H-K last week as they chase a top 8 finish in the Shoreline to qualify for the conference tournament.
“We played great defense, pitched well and got a few timely hits,” coach Michael Grant said. “Our hard work has paid off and we’re on a pretty good run, and we have our ace (Garrett Garbinski) going tomorrow (at North Branford).”
“Small ball is very important and that’s how we won this game tonight,” said Goss.
After being held scoreless by Rivera for three innings, Morgan put itself in position to win in the sixth with discipline at the plate and speed on the bases. Ethan Reemsnyder drew a walk, immediately stealing second, and starter Ethan Ranaudo also earned a free pass. Goss then singled on a tough pitch and Reemsnyder just beat the throw home from center field to give Morgan a 3-2 lead.
After two dominant innings of relief work by Garbinski, Grant brought in Goss to try and get a save. After two quick groundouts, Harrison Collins drew a walk and stole second with Spencer Rosado up. Third baseman Sean Green made a nice stop on Rosado’s grounder, but his rushed throw was high and offline, allowing Collins to score and Rosado to advance to second. An infield hit and walk loaded the bases and it looked like the Highlanders (2-13) could have a big inning due to their discipline and contact hitting. Gross kept his composure however, and attacked Anthony LaPila low before blowing him away on a fastball down the middle.
In the bottom of the seventh, Brady Fritz singled and advanced on Reemsnyder’s groundball single but was thrown out by Rosado trying to take third. Ranaudo and Sean Green drew walks after long at-bats to load the bases. Goss fouled off multiple pitches before laying off an outside fastball to earn his game-winning walk.
Goss discussed his approach in the at-bat.
“My approach was just to foul off as many strikes as I can,” he said. “I choked up on the bat a bit and I was focused on staying alive.”
Morgan made a number of outstanding defensive plays, turning multiple double plays and forceouts and snagging hard-hit line drives and flyballs.
“We take big pride in our defense and it’s gotten a lot better,” Grant said. “We always practice fielding ground balls along with bunting and working on our hitting (technique). The time and effort the guys have put in is paying off over time.”
Reemsnyder drove in Morgan’s first run and tied the game in the opening inning with a sacrifice fly, scoring Garbinski. In the second, Goss drove in Green for the first of his three RBIs with a groundout to put the Huskies up 2-1. Green had singled and then advanced to third on a balk and passed ball.
Ranaudo started for Morgan and went four innings, allowing two runs. After a shaky start in the first where he struggled with locating pitches and allowed an RBI single to LaPila, the senior settled down. He did a strong job of keeping the ball down and jamming hitters, consistently forcing groundouts.
Portland scored its second run in the third when he had a brief stint of wildness. Mike Quesnel made it 2-2 that inning by reaching on a single and advancing to score via a stolen base, balk and wild pitch.
Garbinski was dominant in relief. The senior displayed an overpowering fastball and excellent control and movement on pitches, striking out five of six hitters. The Huskies struck out seven Highlanders overall.
Grant said Morgan’s senior core of Goss, Reemsnyder, Garbinski, Fritz and Ranaudo have done a good job of setting the tone for the team during its recent turnaround, particularly its top of the lineup.
“We stepped up and started playing to our full potential,” Goss said. “The younger guys saw what we were doing and stepped up to, and it’s allowed us to become a strong team.”
Morgan was 10-8 in the regular season last year and advanced to the second round in Class M as a No. 16 seed. It has three more chances to qualify with a win by defeating either North Branford, East Lyme or Manchester.
“If we pitch well and play good defense, we have the situational hitting to continue to win games,” Grant said.
“We just have to lock in and be well prepared,” said Goss. “We’re looking to win tomorrow. I think we can have a big playoff run.”