WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP | Morgan Township looked to be in some trouble during the first inning of its Class A Washington Township Sectional semifinal game against LaCrosse on Thursday.
The favored Cherokees gave up three runs in the first inning and pulled starting pitcher Brandon Murphy after he walked the first two batters of the game.
However, Ryan Klikus came to the mound from shortstop for Morgan and pitched seven innings of strong relief, and the Cherokees rolled to a 12-5 win over the Tigers.
Morgan will face the winner of the Kouts-Washington Township semifinal, which will be played at 4:30 p.m. today. The championship is scheduled for noon Saturday.
Klikus also walked the first two batters he faced but gave up two earned runs while striking out 11.
Cherokees coach Jason Dorshorst said he told Klikus to be ready to pitch if the team got in trouble.
“We told him if it got hairy, he’d be coming in, so he knew,” Dorshorst said. “If we walk the first four batters and only give up three runs, it’s a win.”
Morgan provided Klikus with plenty of support, totaling 15 hits and scoring in all but one inning.
The Cherokees got two runs back in the bottom of the first, tied the game in the second, then took the lead for good with three runs in the third, capped by a two-run homer by right fielder Jacob Gourley that made the score 6-3.
Gourley was a double short of hitting for the cycle, going 3-for-4, with a homer in the third, a one-run triple in the fifth and a two-run single in the sixth.
Gusting wind led to miscues in the outfield for LaCrosse, which Tigers coach Brian McMahan said were costly for his team.
“(The wind) played havoc on us, and we missed some plays early we should have made,” he said.
The loss marked the final game for four-year starting pitcher Jimmy Rippe, who struck out five and walked one. McMahan said the senior lefty had been a leader for the Tigers during his career and will be missed.
“His bat, his leadership, him on the mound -- he’s been tremendous for us the last four years,” McMahan said. “And the last three years I’ve been here, I’ve really leaned on him.”
Rippe managed to go out in style, smacking a two-run homer in the top of the seventh inning in his last at-bat for LaCrosse.
“We’ve said from the beginning that we’re out to win sectionals,” Dorshorst said. “Whoever we play, we’re ready for them. It should be a good game either way.”