Prep Baseball: Carson shuts out Wonders

Carson's Heath Mitchem
Carson's Heath Mitchem

KANNAPOLIS — When he was winning MVP awards for Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” in the 1970s, 5-foot-7 second baseman Joe Morgan got tired of people telling him how small he was.

“I’m short, but I’m not small,” Morgan would say over and over.

Carson sophomore Michael Morrison is on the short side, but he’s not small and proved it Saturday with a grand slam that keyed Carson’s 6-0 win at A.L. Brown. And it’s not like Morrison hit it to the short right-field porch at Veterans Field. He launched it just to the left of that sign in center field that says “385.” It went out easily, so it probably traveled 400 feet.

“That’s a guy I can look in the eye,” A.L. Brown coach Empsy Thompson coach. “And he hit that ball where not a lot of balls go out of here.”

Carson coach Chris Cauble said that the compact Morrison weighs 175 pounds.

“When he told me that, I made him get on the scales and prove it to me,” Cauble said. “He doesn’t look like it, but he does. He added 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason. He worked hard to get stronger so he could generate more power.”

Morrison is one of the keys to Carson’s offense and defense, but Cauble has brought him along slowly. He started the season playing an outfield corner and batting in the bottom third. Now he’s leading off and dashing around in center field.

“We didn’t want to put too much on him right from the start,” Cauble said. “But he’s making his case. He’s an exceptional athlete, and he’s starting to find his way.”

Carson’s other standout Saturday was lefty Heath Mitchem, a versatile and valuable guy who usually plays outfield or first base depending on who’s pitching for the Cougars. At the plate, he produced half of Carson’s six hits.

Carson’s No. 4 pitcher, Mitchem (2-0) also got a chance on the mound in the non-conference game against the Wonders and looked sharp. He went six scoreless innings, allowing two singles and two walks. He struck out five.

“That’s the best command of the strike zone I’ve seen him have,” Cauble said. “He had a very good fastball and he was throwing his curveball for strikes. He could also throw the curve in the dirt when he wanted to.”

Matt Brown started on the mound for the Wonders (5-2), which made for an unusual pitching matchup. Both Brown and Mitchem are the punters for their school’s football teams.

“Punter vs. punter,” Mitchem said. “I had no idea, but that’s pretty cool.”

Brown got in trouble in the second inning because of a missed flyball and a routine infield grounder that could’ve been a double play but yielded zero outs for the Wonders. Those mistakes allowed Morrison to swing, and he parked one.

“He left a fastball up in the zone,” Morrison said. I stayed back and let it get to me.”

Hits by Mitchem and John Daugherty made it 5-0 before the second inning was over.

Then it stayed 5-0 a long time. Kameron Sherrill came very close to stealing home in the third but was called out. The umpire may have been as surprised as everyone else when Sherrill took off.

Morrison made a diving catch to stop the Wonders in the fifth. He robbed Geoffrey Jarvis of a run-scoring hit.

“I was shading that guy to left-center and he hit it to right-center, so I had to dive,” Morrison said. “But Heath was pitching his butt off. We all wanted to make plays for him.”

Trace Hagler hit a liner in the sixth to right-center, but Morrison got back and made the catch almost at the fence.

“That one was smoked,” Morrison reported.

But mostly Mitchem was in control.

“I was just thinking about throwing strikes and not walking people,” Mitchem said. “I was kind of surprised to be pitching and didn’t find out until we got here, but it went fine. Morrison helped out a lot, and not just the grand slam. He made catches that could’ve been game-changers.”

Catcher Bryson Prugh also helped out Mitchem, not only with the tag on the attempted steal of home but by throwing out Zach Mullinax on a steal at second. Mitchem helped himself on that one by using a slide-step and getting the ball to the plate in a hurry.

The Wonders were aggressive on the bases every time they got someone on, but the Cougars (6-3) made the plays.

“That’s a really good baseball team,” Thompson said. “Our pitchers (Brown and Hagler) threw the ball well today against quality hitters and we got to face quality arms. No disrespect to anyone we’ve played, but it can only help us to play a team like this. We need to play teams like this to find out where we are.”

The only down note for Carson was an injury to third baseman Ryan Bearden, who was tagged in the face on a close play at first. He suffered a gash and a broken nose.

Mitchem’s six shutout innings and a strong seventh by Dylan Snider stretched a scoreless streak by Carson’s pitching staff to 20 consecutive innings.

“I’m glad that monkey is off my back,” Mitchem said. “Now I can pass it on to someone else.”

Carson will play at home against South Rowan on Monday in an attempt to beat Tuesday’s ugly weather forecast.

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