WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP | Once Joe Dougherty got a lead, his confidence grew along with his ability to hit the strike zone.
The Morgan Township senior, an ace pitcher for four years, threw a one-hitter and struck out 10 Saturday afternoon to lead the defending champion Cherokees to an easy 6-0 victory over Kouts in the Class A Washington Township Sectional semifinals.
Morgan (17-9), which upset state-ranked No. 3 Washington Township in the first round, will face LaCrosse (5-18) for the title on Monday with a berth in the Caston Regional on the line.
Dougherty walked Kouts lead-off man Jake Bekelya to start the game and gave up a bloop single to right field by Will Ward to start the second. But once the Cherokees took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third, Dougherty retired 12 of the last 14 batters to end the season for the Mustangs (12-11).
"I struggled with my command early in the game, but it was probably one of my better starts," Dougherty said. "I felt really strong and once we got some more runs on the board, I felt more relaxed."
The Cherokees scored a pair of runs in each of the third, fourth and fifth innings.
Ryan Klikus, hobbled by a sprained right ankle suffered when he slipped off second base while attempting a double-play relay throw in the second inning, started the third with a single to center.
Adam Rettinger followed with another hit and Austin Porter got the first RBI of the game on a shot to center field.
Will Swisher added an RBI double to close the inning, and the Cherokees were rolling with a 2-0 lead. Swisher finished 3-for-3 with three RBIs.
"We had some better at-bats today," Morgan coach Jason Dorshorst said. "To get Will going, that's good and it is especially good after we struggled against (Washington's) Justin Landgrebe on Wednesday."
Swisher and Rettinger had the RBIs in the fourth, while Porter laced a two-run single to left with the bases loaded.
By that time, Dougherty was simply mowing down Kouts hitters.
"Joe did a great job today. He seemed to be really on," Kouts coach Matt Weston said. "We knew we would have a challenge.
"Early on, he was a little shaky, but he settled down. If we would have got that first run early it could have made a difference."
For Morgan, Klikus' status is a concern but Dorshorst said he expects him to be ready for the Memorial Day championship.
"I'm not sure what will happen for him pitching-wise, but I wouldn't doubt that he'll be ready to go on Monday," Dorshorst said.