STERLING – The first inning of Wednesday's game was a glimpse of a Morrison Mustang team that could be very dangerous in next week's 2A Stillman Valley Regional.
For most of the year, the Mustangs have depended upon solid pitching, beginning with left-handed starters Bill Greul and Joey Brackemyer.
Behind those two dependable arms has been a sturdy defense.
The last component – an explosive offense – arrived just in time for the Newman Comets.
Morrison scored three times in the first inning, opening the door for an 8-1 Three Rivers North victory.
"All season we've spent a lot of time working on hitting," Greul said. "Every time we get to practice, we work on our swings, and we've been working on how to approach at-bats."
The approach was simple against Newman (14-9) starter Alex Buhler: Be aggressive.
After Andy Bird struck out to start the game for Morrison (16-5), Ben Tegeler hit the first of two doubles – this one a rocket shot down the left-field line.
A groundout moved Tegeler to third, before he scored on an RBI single by Justin Jensen, who drove in a run in three of his four at-bats.
Greul came to the plate next and launched the second pitch well over the right-field fence.
"That's what we've been looking for from Bill all season," Morrison coach Ben Sondgeroth said. "Our bats have struggled a little bit, and it's nice to see them coming out of it.
"Getting Bill that three-run lead right away was huge. He went to the mound comfortable."
Unlike Greul, Buhler (1-3) was behind the 8-ball. He worked a flawless second, before giving up two more runs in the third on RBI hits by Jensen and Mason Sitzmore.
A single run came across in the fourth on Tegeler's second double.
Buhler's day came to an end after hitting Ryan VanZuiden and walking Bird to start the sixth. Matt Wagenecht pitched the last six outs.
"I didn't think Alex pitched too bad," Newman coach Tom Wilson said. "He made a bad pitch here or there, or he would get behind in a count and have to throw a fastball. They have the kind of hitters that make you pay for that."
Greul didn't allow a hit until the fourth inning. In the sixth, Trevor Bolin got the inning started with a single. After getting two outs, Michael Ely drove in Bolin with an RBI single.
"I thought our approach changed later in the game," Wilson said. "We didn't start the game very aggressive. I think they thought he'd walk them. He's too good of a pitcher for that. We had to come up hitting."
After Ely, Brandon Burke singled and Wagenecht walked to load the bases. Greul dug deep and got Elias Edmondson to fly out to end the jam.
"I've been having back issues most of the season," Greul said. "It started to bother me that inning, but I knew I had to keep going for my team."
"That's what you expect from a senior," Sondgeroth said. "He got in a tough spot, but he didn't panic, and battled out of it. That's the example we want him to set."
Sitzmore came in to work the last inning to shut the door on the Comets.
Star of the game: Bill Greul, Morrison, winning pitcher, 6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 8 SO, 2 BB; Also 2-run HR, 3 RBIs
Key performers: Justin Jensen, Morriosn, 2 H, 3 RBIs; Michael Ely, Newman, RBI
Up next: Annawan-Wethersfield at Morrison, 4:30 p.m. today; 2A Stillman Valley Regional, Newman vs. Stillman Valley, 4:30 pm., Thursday May 22