AMBOY – There was a razor-thin margin between the Morrison and Amboy baseball teams on Monday, and in the end, it was the Clippers who got cut.
The Mustangs made the most of a meager offensive output, then withstood a pair of late Amboy rallies to pull out a 2-1 victory at Amboy City Park. It was a key early-season battle between two of the top squads in the Three Rivers.
"We talk about defending our home turf," Morrison coach Ben Sondgeroth said, "so to come in here and sneak one out in Amboy is a big victory today."
"This is huge," senior Alex Fischbach said. "It will be one of our best conference wins of the year, because Amboy is a great team."
Morrison (4-0, 2-0) managed just four hits off Amboy starter Taylor Ikens, but three of them came in the third inning. Consecutive one-out singles by Fischbach, Mason Sitzmore and Alex Volckmann produced one run, then Sitzmore scored on a wild pitch.
Amboy scored in the first inning, on a sacrifice fly by Bailey Appleman that drove in Spencer Johnson, who led off with a walk.
Morrison nursed the 2-1 lead through the last 4 1/2 innings, and withstood some hairy moments in doing so.
In the bottom of the fifth, Amboy (8-3, 3-1) loaded the bases with two outs off Fischbach, but was unable to score when Tyson Powers lofted a deep fly ball that was hauled in by Morrison right fielder Sitzmore.
In the seventh, Amboy again made things interesting. Aaron Hubbell reached on a one-out error by Morrison shortstop Danny Willis, and Nate Rinard, who had both of the Clippers' hits, followed with a single.
Sondgeroth brought in Bill Lee Greul to relieve, and he promptly hit Johnson to load the bases.
Greul struck out Jackson Sorrells looking for the second hit of the inning, which brought up Powers. With another bases-loaded opportunity, he hit a 3-2 fastball directly back at Greul, who flipped the ball to Fischbach at first base to end the game.
Greul is penciled in to be the Mustangs' top starting pitcher, but Sondgeroth noted he could also be used in specialty relief situations, like one with the game on the line and, with any luck, not too many pitches required.
"He's going to give me gray hair," Sondgeroth said with a smile, "but I had confidence in him. I knew he'd be able to come back and settle in. He's got good enough stuff that he can get those outs."
Powers tipped his cap to the Morrison pitchers.
"That's a spot where coach wants me up," Powers said, "and tonight, I just didn't pull through. The good thing about baseball, we can come back tomorrow and I might have the same opportunity."
Fischbach (1-0) walked three batters in the first inning, then allowed just two hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings after that.
"Coach told me how I was throwing up high and not bending right," Fischbach said. "When I was in the dugout, I was working on making sure I was bending right."
Ikens (1-2) went the distance for Amboy, allowing two runs, four hits and three walks, while striking out eight. Run support was scare, however, sealing the Clippers' fate.
"They pitched well. You've got to give them credit," Amboy coach Chris Newsome said. "[Fischbach] kept us off balance, not necessarily throwing smoke, but with the off-speed, and then coming back with fastballs up and in, and down and away. And then [Greul] shut the door."
Wet field conditions at Morrison moved the game to Amboy. The Clippers will now visit the Mustangs in the second meeting between the squads on May 2.
Star of the game: Alex Fischbach, Morrison, 6 1/3 IP, 1 R, 2 H, 3 SO; 1-for-3, 1 R
Key performers: Taylor Ikens, Amboy, 7 IP, 2 R, 4 H, 8 SO; Alex Volckmann, Morrison, RBI 1B
Up next: Morrison at Alleman, Bureau Valley at Amboy, both 4:30 today