Some nights, the other guy is just a little better.
For Mitchell High, Brett Morales was that 'other guy' Friday night. The King High senior turned in a 17-strikeout, three-hit gem while leading the Lions to a 4-1 Class 6A region final win and their second state final four appearance in four years.
According to Morales there were some early jitters to shake out, but it was hard to tell from a spectator's standpoint. The projected early round draft pick and University of Florida commit fanned at least two Mustangs every inning and the side three times.
“In the first inning I was a little nervous,” Morales said. “It's a big game and I wanted to win. After the first couple pitches I kind of settled in and did what I do usually.”
The lone blemish on Morales' otherwise sterling performance came during the first at bat of the top of the second inning. Mitchell cleanup hitter Eddie Goscicki hammered an inside fastball into the trees beyond the right-field wall to put the Mustangs on top early, 1-0.
“Coming into the game I knew he had a good fastball and that's the one thing I wasn't going to let go by me,” Goscicki said of Morales' low-to-mid 90's heater. “When I saw that fastball my eyes got really big. That's the one I wanted. It was a lefty's dream, he left it low and inside.”
Unfortunately for Pasco County's lone remaining playoff baseball contender, other similar offensive surges were practically non-existent Friday night.
“You just have to tip your cap to that pitcher and that team,” Goscicki said. “That's a great team and not everyone ends with a win.”
Mitchell's slim lead didn't last long, as King took advantage of a couple miscues from a typically solid Mustang defense.
An error in left field on Tanner Williams' two-out base hit allowed Devon Pedro to score from second and Williams to get all the way to third. Jose Lopez then followed with what would have been an inning-ending ground out to short, but Cobi Johnson's throw was dropped at first and Williams scored the go-ahead run. Lopez got to second on the error and made it 3-1 King when Morales ripped an RBI single up the middle.
“You can't give a team like that extra outs, especially when a kid like Morales is pitching,” said Mitchell coach Scot Wilcox. “It's hard to recover from.”
On top of his 17-strikeout effort from the mound, Morales, for good measure, also recorded the game's only multi-hit night. He reached base in all three at bats, going 2-for-2 with the RBI and a hit-by-pitch.
The Lions (25-3) tacked on their insurance run in the fourth on Pedro's RBI sacrifice fly to right that plated Buddy Terp.
The fourth and final King run was the only earned run McCormick surrendered in his five innings of work. The senior allowed seven hits, one walk and struck out three.
Johnson and P.J. DeJesus recorded Mitchell's two other hits Friday, with Johnson's a leadoff double to right-center in the fourth. The Mustangs put runners at second and third with only one out in that frame, but Morales responded by striking out the next two batters he faced to end the threat.
King now moves on to play Lynn Haven Mosley (27-3) in the state semifinals in Fort Myers on May 22. The other semifinal pits Orlando Edgewater against Southwest Ranches Archbishop McCarthy.
Despite the season-ending loss, the region final appearance capped Mitchell's best showing in school history. The Mustangs finished 24-6 overall and went 10-1 in games against out-of-county opponents.
“Our boys had a great year and we made it farther than any other Mitchell team in history, so we're proud of them,” Wilcox said. “We've always had the confidence within our county, but we can absolutely build on this. We finally got the opportunity again to play teams outside the county and we played really, really well.”
Goscicki dittoed his coach's assessment before huddling with his teammates one last time, saying they all knew this year had the potential for something special.
“It's exactly what we wanted. I could go on and on about this team. This is the greatest team I've ever played with by far.
“We felt it throughout the whole year from day one,” he continued. “It was a new hero every single day. Our pitchers threw great and our lineup was as deep as it's ever been. We had the greatest team here, ever.”
MHS - 010 000 0 --- 1-3-3KHS - 003 100 x --- 4-7-0
WP – Brett Morales (11-1)LP – Chris McCormick (6-2)