Morici’s sixth-inning grand slam leads Warriors to district title
By Brendan Freeney
NILES — Edgewood exploded for five runs in the sixth inning of Wednesday’s Division III district title game at Niles to turn a 5-4 deficit into a 9-5 advantage over top-seeded Champion.
The Warriors added another run in the seventh and Brendan Freeborn struck out three Golden Flashes in a row to clinch the 10-5 win and district title. It is Edgewood’s second district championship since 2015.
“It sounds good, it sounds amazing,” Chris Morici said of being called a district champion. “We worked hard for this and we finally got it.”
Morici put the Warriors over the top in their five-run sixth. Freeborn led off the frame with a walk and, after failing to drop down a sacrifice bunt, James Gross struck an 0-2 pitch to left field for a single.
Will Walker attempted to bunt Freeborn and Gross into scoring position, but Champion committed an error and the bases loaded up for Jacob Zappitelli, the hero of Edgewood’s district semifinal victory over Grand Valley on Monday. Zappitelli stepped up to the plate and did not try to do too much. He saw a pitch he could put in play, put the bat on the ball and tied the game with a groundout to second base — Gross trotted to third and Walker advanced to second.
Collin Stewart, Edgewood’s next batter, drew a hit-by-pitch to load the bases for Morici with one out in a 5-5 game. The center fielder took the first two pitches, both balls, then turned on a high fastball and belted it over the right-field fence to give his team a 9-5 lead. Morici, who knew the ball was gone the second it left his bat, hop-stepped out of the batter’s box and threw both hands high in the air.
“When I was walking up, I knew (the pitcher) was a bit slower, so I knew I would see it longer,” Morici said of his approach to the at-bat. “I knew to be patient, but, whenever I swing, swing hard. Make them make a play.
“First pitch, ball. Second pitch, ball. I’m like, ‘Two balls, there’s usually a strike,’ so I knew it was coming and I just pulled the trigger.”
With the win, the Warriors advance to a regional semifinal in Massillon Perry, where they will take on Canton Central Catholic on Thursday.
“You know, really, at this point, I’m not sure I have any words,” Edgewood second-year coach Sean Freeman said. “What a game. If you’re going to have a district final game play out with some excitement, some moments, that was it. And that’s a good ball club over there and we had our moment and we came through.”
For the second-straight game, the Warriors trailed entering the sixth inning before rallying to take the lead — Grand Valley held a 3-1 advantage on Monday, but Edgewood responded with a five-run sixth inning.
Unlike Monday’s game, though, the Warriors drew first blood on Wednesday. The team forced starting pitcher Abe Bayus into three full counts in the first inning and capitalized on two Champion errors to score three runs.
The Golden Flashes stormed back, though, and scored five runs in the third inning, highlighted by a Bayus grand slam. Freeborn golfed a low-and-in pitch over the right-field fence in the fourth to cut Champion’s lead in half and the team chased Bayus out of the game in the sixth. Then, the rally began.
“We talked about it early on, this kid’s pretty good, but he does run into some control issues and I think what you saw early on there was he was throwing a lot of pitches and if we could get him out of there, our chances looked good,” Freeman said. “We talked about having quality at-bats, disciplined at-bats, and as the game was going on, that was one of the things we reminded them of. … We stayed with them.”
Zappitelli and Alec Katon both registered two hits. Freeborn finished 1-for-1 with a hit-by-pitch and two walks. He scored three runs.
Katon received the game ball for Edgewood. He utilized his curveball early and retired the first five batters he faced. When Champion loaded the bases with two outs in the second inning, Katon navigated his way out of danger without surrendering a run.
Katon had a bit of a hiccup in the third, though. With two outs, no one on base and one run already across the plate, Katon sandwiched a single between a pair of walks to load the bases and then left a fastball up in the zone for Bayus, who smacked a grand slam to give Champion a 5-3 lead. Katon bounced back, though, and shut down the Golden Flashes in the fourth and fifth innings.
NEXT UP –
The Warriors will have a week off before their next game — a regional semifinal against CCC.
According to Morici, Edgewood entered Wednesday’s contest as a team with nothing, or very little, to lose and the Warriors will need to keep that same mindset next week.
Freeman is content with the district championship for now, but he’s not closing the door on the possibility for more.
“We’ve gotten this far, why not us?” he asked, in regards to a run at state. “Just keep moving forward. We don’t look past this, because I think a district title is a big deal. But we’re going to go to work. We got a little time to rest and heal up, and we’ll get back to work for the regionals.”