Atholton second baseman Dan McCann stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning Tuesday afternoon and peered toward the mound at Reservoir right-hander Cody Morris, who, to that point, had been nearly unhittable.
Morris, a junior, is the two-time Howard County pitcher of the year, a South Carolina recruit and 2013 All-Met whose fastball hits 92 mph. If he decides to forego his commitment and enter the MLB draft next year, he likely will be picked in one of the first five rounds.
Morris already had 11 strikeouts, and McCann had been one of them. But McCann’s hard-hit groundout in the fourth inning had given him confidence. So with one out and a runner on second base, McCann looked for a fastball from Morris and got it.
The senior slapped the pitch to right field, and pinch-runner Bryan Gsell rounded third base and slid hard at the plate to score the winning run, an emphatic ending to Atholton’s 3-2 walk-off win over No. 5 Reservoir in Columbia. It was the first walk-off hit of McCann’s high school career.
“It was overall a great game,” McCann said. “And I’m kind of glad it ended like that.”
Atholton and Reservoir lost in separate tournaments over the weekend, but each was undefeated in Howard County entering their only meeting of the season. They had split their 10 matchups over the past five seasons with neither team winning by more than three runs.
And from the beginning, this one also seemed destined for a tight finish.
Atholton (11-1) kept the game close thanks to the right arm of senior Michael Slayton. Slayton was a first-team all-county selection last season, and he has already thrown a perfect game this season, but he didn’t draw the hype that Morris did before the game.
Slayton created his own hype, however, by striking out seven and allowing just two runs over seven innings. He mostly worked his fastball and change-up, pounding the strike zone and refusing to give in late in the game, when he approached and exceeded 100 pitches.
“I was psyched,” Slayton said. “I was over 100 pitches but I knew I wanted it.”
Slayton kept pace with Morris, then led off the seventh inning with a single against him before Gsell entered the game as a pinch runner. First baseman Blake James laid down a textbook sacrifice bunt to advance Gsell to second, and McCann took care of the rest, running down the line before being mobbed by teammates in front of the home dugout.
“Our team never gives up. They believe in themselves no matter what the situation is,” Atholton third-year Coach Jon Dupski said. “Coming in facing the No. 1 pitcher in Howard County, one of the best pitchers in the state, I think we showed a lot of character today.
“If we can beat Reservoir, we have the confidence to beat anybody.”