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2016 CWS: Senior Morrison Steps Up For Coastal

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Mike Morrison (Photo by Andrew Woolley) Mike Morrison (Photo by Andrew Woolley)[/caption] OMAHA—As righthander Mike Morrison walked off the mound at TD Ameritrade Park in the bottom of the seventh inning Tuesday night, the fans behind the Coastal Carolina dugout, many of them clad in teal, rose to their feet. Morrison, typically the Chanticleers’ closer, had delivered the start Coastal needed, lifting a beleaguered pitching staff and giving his team a chance in Game 2 of the College World Series finals. As Morrison neared the first-base dugout, he tipped his cap to the cheering crowd. The senior exited with Coastal and Arizona tied at two, having given all he could in the final appearance of his college career. He threw 103 pitches over 6 2/3 innings, striking out 10 batters and scattering six hits and two walks. He set career highs in both strikeouts and innings pitched. At the time, no one knew that in the top of the next inning the Chanticleers would score three runs and cling to that lead through the game’s final six outs. Coastal held on for a 5-4 victory, sending the series to a decisive third game Wednesday night.
Turning Point: Tied 2-2 in the eighth, the Chanticleers engineered a three-run rally that put them in position to win. Anthony Marks led off with a single and advanced on a sacrifice bunt, then scored on a single by Connor Owings. After a Zach Remillard double, G.K. Young singled down the right-field line to drive in two more. Coastal needed all three of those runs as Arizona responded with a two-run inning in the bottom half. The Hero: Coastal Carolina closer Mike Morrison had made just two career starts prior to Tuesday night, but their season on the line, the Chanticleers turned to the steady senior righthander. He delivered, setting a career-high with 6 2/3 innings and 10 strikeouts, allowing only two runs on six hits. While he didn’t earn a decision—the game was tied 2-2 when he left—Morrison provided much-needed length in his final collegiate appearance. You Might Have Missed: Arizona righthander Kevin Ginkel matched Morrison pitch for pitch Tuesday, allowing two runs (one earned) in seven innings and also striking out 10. He is the first pitcher to strike out 10 without issuing a walk in a CWS final since Oklahoma’s Mark Redman in 1994. Box Score Highlights

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Instead, when pitching coach Drew Thomas walked to the mound to remove Morrison, it was a moment ripe with the emotion. Thomas said Morrison, who came to Coastal as a walk-on, is like a son to him. Taking Morrison out for what will be the final time in his career nearly brought Thomas to tears. “I thought he was going to make me break down a little bit,” Thomas said. “We had to breathe together. I told him to, ‘Walk off this mound with a big chest because you deserve this noise that’s about to be for you. Because you earned that.’” The noise came from the 24,716 fans in attendance. Morrison said it was the highlight of his career and will probably be the coolest thing to ever happen in his life. He was overcome by emotion. “Coach Thomas was in my ear a little bit there just saying some very nice, very kind words that made me choke up,” Morrison said. “You see 25,000 people on their feet clapping, I don’t know how you don’t get emotional when that happens.” Coach Gary Gilmore said he, too, was emotional seeing Morrison walk off the field for the final time. “To see where that young man came from to where he is today and as good a pitcher as he has been, his makeup and what he’s meant inside that locker room out in the bullpen . . . I mean, it’s unbelievable,” Gilmore said. It was an appropriate exit for Morrison following one of the best appearances of his career. Thomas said he has seen Morrison pitch better before, but considering the stage and Morrison’s limited experience as a starter, his outing will long be remembered by the Chanticleers. Morrison went 8-1, 1.50 with 11 saves this season, but he had only started two games in his college career. Both were last year, and neither went particularly well—he gave up 12 runs (nine earned) in eight innings between the two–and he said he had to create a pre-game routine on the fly Tuesday. But Coastal has pared its pitching staff down significantly in the NCAA tournament, and especially in the CWS. In Omaha, four Chanticleers—Andrew Beckwith, Alex Cunningham, Bobby Holmes and Morrison—have combined to throw 51 1/3 of the 63 innings they have played. Beckwith and Cunningham were unavailable Tuesday, having started Saturday and Monday, respectively. So, with Coastal playing a must-win game, the start fell to Morrison. He was happy to take the ball. “If we’re going to lose, I’d like to be on the mound when we lose,” Morrison said. “It was definitely the coolest game I’ve ever pitched in in my entire life.” But as well as Morrison pitched Tuesday, Arizona righthander Kevin Ginkel matched him. The junior held the Chanticleers to two runs (one earned) on five hits and struck out 10 batters in seven innings. But when the Wildcats brought closer Cameron Ming on to start the eighth, the Chanticleers offense was able to get something going. Anthony Marks led off the inning with a single, moved to second on a sacrifice and scored on a single from Connor Owings. After a double from Zach Remillard, G.K. Young brought in two runs with a single, and the Chanticleers had breathing room against the Wildcats for the first time in two games. They would need all three runs, as Holmes struggled with his control in the eighth. Arizona scored twice and had the go-ahead run on base before Holmes was finally able to escape the jam. Gilmore said it was the first time in the two months since Holmes returned to the bullpen after a stint in the rotation that he had allowed the game to speed up on him. But Holmes refocused in the dugout, performing an eye exercise that requires you to completely relax to allow your eyes to cross while you stare at a picture to see a 3-D image. The exercise worked, and Holmes retired the Wildcats in order in the ninth inning to close out the victory. “I think the pitches, sharpness, everything was back to normal in the ninth,” Holmes said. “I don’t know what it is. I guess some people are made for the bullpen. I guess I am one of those guys.” Thanks to the efforts of Morrison and Holmes in slightly different roles than what they are used to, Coastal was able to push the series to the end. The Chanticleers and Wildcats will play one more time Wednesday night with the winner taking home the national championship trophy. Arizona and Coastal have combined to win 11 games while facing elimination this month. Both have become accustomed to playing with their season on the line and will be ready to do so again Wednesday. Owings said the Chanticleers are looking forward to the chance of a lifetime. “It’s going to be a very exciting opportunity,” Owing said. “Two very good teams that have been playing well down the stretch. And we’re very excited for that opportunity. You can’t write it better than it is right now.”

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