By Jeff Nations
STRASBURG -- William Monroe junior right-handed pitcher Jack Morris has a long ways to go to live up to that moniker.
On Thursday against Strasburg, Morris narrowed the gap between his blossoming career and that of the borderline Hall-of-Fame hurler by the same name. Morris -- the young one -- fanned 15 Rams in the Green Dragons' 5-3 extra-inning victory.
Flashing a dominating three-pitch arsenal, Morris put Strasburg on notice early that a long night awaited at First Bank Park by striking out the first six batters he faced. It looked like more of the same from the last start by Morris, when he also fanned 15 in a five inning no-hitter against Clarke County.
"He was our No. 2 last year, and he really worked his tail off," Green Dragons coach Mike Maynard said. "We had a real good one last year in Jordan Gentry, the single-A player of the year. Jack Morris was our No. 2 last year as a sophomore, and I knew this was coming. He's pitched three straight great games."
It nearly turned out differently for William Monroe (9-0, 4-0 Bull Run). In the bottom of the seventh and holding a 3-1 lead, Morris ran into trouble. Zach McDonald led off with a single, then Ryan Murphy and Mark Smoot reached on back-to-back errors to load the based with no outs.
Morris nearly cleaned up the mess, fanning the next two Rams batters before getting ahead of Ryan Smoot. Morris was busy fashioning a golden sombrero for Smoot -- the ignominious baseball term for a four-strikeout night. Smoot decided that proverbial hat just didn't fit, and he swatted a 2-2 pitch right up the middle for a two-run single that tied the game.
"I was dead tired in that last inning," Morris said. "I tried to fight through it, but I'm going to give it to him -- he had a good shot right up the middle."
It was a clutch hit for the Rams, one of the few on the night.
We did not get enough of those," Strasburg coach Jeff Smoot said. "I think that was probably the difference in the way the thing played out. We needed more hits."
The Green Dragons didn't fret, starting a one-out rally in the eighth against Rams starting pitcher Tyler Hott. Trey Lam reached on an error, then moved to second on a groundout. Keegan Woolford plated him with an RBI double, and one batter later Morris drove in the game's final run with a single to right.
It was a tough-luck loss for Hott, who worked all eight innings and was victimized by four Rams errors. Hott struck out seven.
"That's a good club," Maynard said. "Tyler Hott is one helluva pitcher."
The Green Dragons jumped on Hott for a run in the first on Austin Batten's RBI single, but Strasburg (8-1, 3-1 Bull Run) got it back in the third when Ryan Murphy scored on an error.
Three Strasburg errors in the fourth helped the Green Dragons take a 2-1 lead, and they added another run in the top of the seventh on Anthony Sneska's RBI double.
That seemed like enough support for Morris (4-0).
"He's been waiting for this opportunity, waiting his turn," Maynard said. "He is the man. He's going to take us a long ways, we hope."
In the bottom of the eighth, McDonald kept the Rams alive with a two-out single to bring up the tying run against reliever Ryan Leake. But Leake notched the save by inducing a groundout by Murphy.
Strasburg managed just five hits in its first loss of the season.
"We had a hard time in there offensively, but a lot of the reason we did was because of [Morris]," Smoot said. "It was not all us -- he was pretty good."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>