Change pays off for Knights
GIBSON CITY — Not every story has a moral. Not every softball team has a Morrow.
Sometimes the stars are aligned so perfectly that a story has each and they are intertwined.
The lesson to be learned from Monday's high school softball showdown between state-ranked Blue Ridge and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley teams is clear: Coaches need not be committed to the theory about not making lineup changes during a winning streak.
Though Blue Ridge had won its two previous games and four of its last five, coach Wayne Brown wasn't reluctant to rearrange his batting order.
"Chandler (Morrow) has been swinging the bat well," Brown said, "so we moved her up in the lineup from the nine spot."
The junior outfielder was elevated to what turned out to be the right position in the Knights' batting order, the sixth spot. Her eighth-inning single drove in two runs and broke a 3-3 tie, settling a battle between two All-Area pitchers in favor of Blue Ridge.
"It worked out well," said Brown, following his team's 5-3 triumph.
Morrow was one of four Blue Ridge players with at least two hits against Regan Romshek (6-5). The second-year varsity player was calm in her game-changing at-bat.
"It was weird that I was the one up," she said. "I love that (situation). It gets me pumped. I'm really happy I got the hit. I've never done anything like that before."
To set the stage for Morrow, three other teammates got the inning going.
Jordan Wheeler and Melinda Wilson started the eighth with back-to-back singles. Both hits came on two-strike pitches and Wilson's came after fouling off four pitches.
"I wasn't going to let anything go by," said Wilson, who launched a three-run homer to center field in the third inning. "I was swinging at everything."
With runners on first and second and GCMS expecting a bunt, Jamison Brandt laid down a sacrifice to move both runners into scoring position.
"We practice bunting all the time," Wilson said. "That's what we needed to do."
Brandt's bunt was by a player who — like Wheeler and Wilson — had multiple hits.
"She put it down in a great spot," Brown said.
Wheeler (7-2) made certain the lead was sufficient. The Parkland College recruit — pitching in front of her future coach, Chuck Clutts — retired all three GCMS batters in the bottom of the eighth, ending the game with her 10th strikeout.
"Execution is a big part of the game." GCMS coach Jim Lewis said. "Give them credit for getting it done."
GCMS, the eighth-ranked Class 1A team, put single runs on the scoreboard in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings in its comeback bid against the 10th-rated Knights (9-3).
In the bottom of the seventh, Kaiti Bowen belted her third consecutive hit, a first-pitch double, but was left stranded at third base when Wheeler ended the inning with a three-pitch strikeout.
"We gave ourself a chance to put it away," Lewis said, "but we haven't been able to get the big hit to finish it off. That has been elusive."
Romshek, an Illinois State recruit, walked no one and struck out 13.
One of Blue Ridge's unsung heroes was a player who didn't have a hit. Right fielder Kylee Beck battled the sun and a gusty wind to make putouts on four fly balls, two of which ended innings with GCMS runners at third base.
"People don't realize how tough that is with the sun and wind," Brown said. "She really did a nice job."
Wheeler and Wilson are the only seniors on a youthful Blue Ridge team that has a freshman batting leadoff (Taylor Builta) and a freshman catcher (Cheye Beres), who threw out the first Falcon runner who attempted to steal.
"Our team has two quality seniors," Brown said. "After that, the young kids are good, but they are still learning."