by Eric Oslund
The Elk River Elks and Rogers Royals made their way to Minneapolis on a stormy Wednesday night to play one another in what was likely the only high school game going on in the metro area that day – even the Minnesota Twins rescheduled their game.
The two rivals took refuge in U.S. Bank Stadium, in a game that will not soon be forgotten by any of the athletes who had the opportunity to play.
“Unbelievable,” Elk River senior Wyatt Morrell said of the experience. “We’ve played on turf mounds and turf fields before, but this is probably the best one we’ve played on. They do a great job of getting it set up. It’s a little bit weird getting used to it at first, obviously, with all the stuff that’s going on, but it was an unbelievable experience and if we could do it again we should definitely do it again, because this is awesome.”
Morrell took the mound for the Elks in this contest, his third start of the season. His first two outings had been on rather cold days, and he never really felt comfortable or looked like himself, but being indoors really seemed to help him out.
He had control of all his pitches all night and really seemed to have the hitters guessing, recording five strike outs and only allowing three base runners – a single, a walk and a hit by pitch.
“That’s the Wyatt Morrell that we know, and that’s what we expected to see from him this year,” head coach Ryan Holmgren said. “He’s kind of a big-game kid. He performs well in big situations, and he’s proven that – not just in baseball, but in basketball too. It’s a quality that you can’t teach, and a quality that when you get that in a kid you really want to harness that and use that. Hopefully we get some more out of him like that.”
Morrell had the task of matching up against Shawn Watercott of Rogers, an all conference pitcher last year in the Mississippi 8, and one who has the ability to control a game himself.
The Elks were able to get on him in the first inning with Brad Geist getting a single and then advancing to third on a single by Mitch Stroh – who then stole second. Giving Connor Hogan multiple runners in scoring position when he got up to bat with two outs.
Hogan’s been struggling a bit at the plate this season, but he was able to step up in this situation. Blasting a double off the left field fence, driving in both the runners, to give his team a 2-0 lead.
“He hit that thing about 327 feet,” Holmgren said. “Unfortunately he didn’t get it over the little corner over there, but more importantly, it was good for him to finally drive a ball. He hasn’t really driven a ball like that… but he drove that ball, and that was good for his confidence more than anything. We moved him out of the four spot, down to the five spot, just to alleviate some of the pressure of being the “clean up hitter” and he made me look smart there.”
Watercott would settle down after that, though, throwing six scoreless innings to finish the game – recording four strikeouts, and making batters hit into double plays twice.
Fortunately for the Elks, with Morrell pitching the way he was, they never really had to worry about the Royals bats. He only allowed one hit all night, and a Rogers baserunner only got as far as second base once.
“I felt like I was in control most of the night,” Morrell said. “During warmups and stuff it just felt good, and then when I got out there and got the first inning, went back quick, I just felt good. Really had my stuff working tonight, and they’re a good hitting team, so to keep them shutdown like I did, I think I pitched really well tonight.”
For the Royals, it was a lot of what they have been dealing with for a majority of this young season – cold bats. Head coach Brian Harapat knows it’s nearly impossible to win a game with just one hit, and knows his team’s bats need to start heating up if they want to reach the goals they set at the beginning of this season.
“We’re trying to just find different ways of getting better from game to game, but at some point – we were talking about it after the game – there’s a point where guys have to try learning from their at bats, making adjustments,” Harapat explained. “And we’re not doing a good job of that right now.”
The Elks would hold onto their narrow lead and come away with a 2-0 victory, and it is one they are hoping can give them the spark they have been looking for.
They are just 2-3 overall this season, losing a heartbreaker the night before when Robbinsdale Armstrong walked them off in the seventh, but the energy among the players just felt different after beating a rivaled team in a venue like U.S. Bank Stadium.
“I was thinking about that same exact thing most of the day today,” Holmgren said. “Coming out here and playing well today, getting a win, hopefully gives us a little bit of a boost. They’ll sleep well tonight and they’ll have smiles on their faces at school tomorrow, but we want to propel that into our next game on Friday and into next week, and hopefully get us going in the right direction here at the last part of April as we get into May, when we really want to be playing well.”