McLean took the field for its second 6A North region quarterfinal in three years Tuesday against Battlefield, but the fact that the Highlanders were still alive in June at all was the more notable accomplishment. The Highlanders went 15 days without a win at one point in late April, and lost seven of eight games in the middle of their schedule – including a four-game skid during a five-day span in May.
“It was pretty tough. A lot of people were hanging their heads,” senior pitcher Colin Morse said.
McLean always had the talent, though, and the team knew it would “figure it out eventually,” Morse said.
Tuesday night against a loaded Battlefield team, McLean did just that. Morse came within one out of a complete game and junior Caleb Beatty provided two doubles and notched the save as the Highlanders continued their torrid postseason run with a 7-5 win in Haymarket
McLean (11-9) has now won five of its past six games, and advances to a Virginia 6A North region semifinal against Madison or West Potomac, hoping to continue a resurgence that has been sparked both by timely hitting (30 runs in last six games) and, as Morse demonstrated Tuesday, quality pitching.
The Bobcats (16-5) collected nine hits, but using a blend of fastballs and offspeed pitches Morse was able to mesmerize hitters at key points in the game. He struck out seven on the night, and his ability to get out of jams defined his performance.
After McLean had taken a 3-0 lead in the third, Battlefield cut the lead to 3-1 when sophomore Jake Agnos belted an RBI single to left in the fourth. But Morse struck out the next two batters to strand runners at second and third.
“I have the confidence in guys making a play behind me,” Morse said.
When Battlefield put the first two runners on in the bottom of seventh, a tired Morse induced a double-play groundball before the Highlanders replaced him with Beatty to finish off the win. Battlefield got the winning run to the plate in the seventh after a McLean outfielder bobbled a flyball by Agnos with two outs, but Beatty struck out the final hitter with a breaking ball.
Battlefield, which had registered shutouts in three of its past four wins, struggled to contain McLean at the plate. Beatty was a menace all evening, ripping RBI doubles in the third and sixth inning. Seniors Jesse Jones and Ben Clines each finished 2 for 3 with run-scoring singles during a three-run sixth inning.
“We’ve got our heads into it, and we know what we can do now,” Beatty said. “We’ve played in big games before.”