By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
Five days ago Brandon Morse was far from perfect. He was far from good. Heck, he wasn't even average.
Five days ago, Morse endured possibly the worst outing of his legion baseball career against the Great Falls Stallions A squad, walking 11 batters in just over three innings, including nine in the third inning.
But that wasn't all - he also gave up eight earned runs and walked in four of those runs during that circus third inning that saw him throw 77 pitches, 65 of which were balls.
But that was five days ago.
Morse showed little, if any, effect from the previous outing. In fact, he was nearly perfect Wednesday night, tossing seven splendid innings of no-hit baseball to lead the Havre Northstars to a 19-0 win over the Havre Comets on a rain soaked Legion Field.
It was Morse's first no-hitter of his legion career, but he made it look easy, shaking off a pair of 20-minute rain delays and striking out 12 Comet batters while walking one and hitting three.
"Brandon pitched outstanding for us tonight," said Northstars manager Mickey Williams after the game. "It was a far cry from his performance against the Stallions."
Indeed, Morse was staring a perfect game in the face into the fifth inning when he finally blinked, surrendering a lead-off walk to Tyson Anderson after an extended rain delay. A wild pitch moved Anderson over to second, but that was as far as he got. Morse battled back to get a ground ball back to him, strike out Josh Lowe and get Josh Morse to ground out to third to end the inning.
"Rain delays can be tough for pitchers," Williams said. "It's not like he can just sit there and wait. We have to get the tarps out and cover the field. But Brandon did a good job of trying to stay warm and throw when he could during the breaks."
Morse's only other trouble came in the final inning when he was trying to secure the no-hitter. He opened the inning by hitting John Christian and Austin Small with pitches. He battled back to strike out Tyson Anderson, while Ricky Houim recorded the second out of the inning, tossing out Christian who was trying steal third.
But as he's proven before, things are never dull when Morse pitches. He hit his third batter of the inning, Mike Olson, to once again give the Comets runners on first and second.
As with many no-hitters, the last out is the toughest and this proved no different. With rain falling in sheets, Morse needed a little help from his defense to get the last out.
With two outs, Lowe gave the Comets their best chance at breaking up the no hitter, lacing a line drive which appeared to be heading between third and short. However, third baseman Ian Spencer made a fantastic diving catch to end the game and keep Morse's no-hitter intact.
"That was just a great play by Ian," Williams said. "In that situation, you need your defense to make some big plays and he did. It was a nice way to end the game and get Brandon the no-hitter."
Even if Morse hadn't been unhittable, it wouldn't have mattered much as the Northstars bats finally seemed to get going. Like Morse five days ago, the Northstars weren't exactly breaking any windows with their hitting prowess, scoring just four runs in a loss to the Stallions. But on Wednesday, the Northstars were able to do what they couldn't do five days before, which is get hits with runners in scoring position.
The Northstars banged out 18 hits and made the Comets pay for each of their 11 errors in the game, scoring a season-high 19 runs. Every Northstar scored a run in the game, while all but one registered at least one hit in the game.
"We finally started to get some key hits when we needed them," Williams said. "We're not the type of team that's going to hit the ball out of the park, so when we get runners in scoring position we have to get them in."
Although the Northstars were hitting the ball hard, the Comets did them a few favors in the field, basically spotting them a seven run lead.
After holding the Northstars scoreless in the first inning, the floodgates opened in the second as the Northstars scored seven runs off starter John Christian on just two hits. The Comets committed five errors in the inning and only two of the runs were charged to Christian on Ian Spencers' two-run double to the left-center gap.
"We can't spot a team that many runs and expect to win, especially a team like the Northstars," said Comets coach Andy Smith.
After the bad second inning, the Comets were a little better defensively, but there wasn't much they could do as the Northstars bats started to come alive. The Northstars got the lead-off man on every inning and scored every inning to turn things ugly.
In the third, Trent Normandy laced an RBI triple to the right-center gap to get things going. In a three-run fourth, Spencer added to his team-leading RBI total, scoring a pair of runs with a hard single up the middle.
The Northstars added four runs in the fifth as Spencer, Normandy and Bret Magelssen all had RBI singles. Tony Christian added RBI single in the sixth, while Cory Junck and Ben Erickson each added RBI singles in the seventh.
Junck led Havre with four hits and two runs scored. Spencer was 3-5 with five RBIs while Normandy, Houim and Eric Fanning had two hits each.
It was by far the Northstars' best offensive performance of the season, but the night belonged to Morse.
He faced 24 batters in the game, three above the minimum. Of those 24, he only went to three balls on three batters. The Comets only hit two balls very hard - Mike Olson's fly ball to the right-center gap which Junck tracked down, and Lowe's line drive that Spencer gloved. Still, the Comets' inability to hit wasn't what upset Smith. It was their inability to make plays in the field.
"You have to give a lot of credit to Brandon," Smith said. "When he's throwing like that he's tough to hit for anybody. He's one of the better pitchers we're going to see this year and he threw like it. Our hitting is going to come. I'm not so disappointed in being no-hit, but the number of errors we made in the field. We're not making the routine plays. They're plays we've made before and plays we have to make to win."
Said Williams: "It was what I was looking for from our kids after the loss to the Stallions. We challenged them a little bit after that game. It showed that we can't take any game for granted and we have to be ready to play every night. I thought we did that tonight. We came out and hit the ball early, made the plays in the field and Brandon was just exceptional on the mound."
The Northstars improved to 8-5 on the season and 2-0 in the Northern District. The Comets fell to 4-7 and 0-4 in conference games.
With graduation, state track and state tennis, Williams will take team made up of both Northstars and Comets to a very tough tournament in Kalispell this weekend.
Northstars 19, Comets 0
Havre Northstars 072 341 2 0 - 19 18 3
Havre Comets 000 000 0 - 0 0 11
Brandon Morse (WP) and Ricky Houim; John Christian (LP), Josh Lowe (4), Tyson Anderson (6) and Josh Morse.
NORTHSTARS HITTING - Patch Wirtzberger 0-5 (RBI), Trent Normandy 2-4 (2 RBI), Ian Spencer 3-5 (5 RBI), Rick Houim 2-6 (RBI), Jordon Patterson 1-2, Chase Castloo 1-1, Cory Junck 4-5 (RBI), Tony Christian 1-4 (RBI), Ben Erickson 1-5 (2 RBI), Eric Fanning 2-3, Bret Magelssen 1-2 (RBI).
COMETS HITTING - Richard Jarvis 0-3, John Christian 0-2, Austin Small 0-2, Tyson Anderson 0-2, Mike Olson 0-2, Josh Lowe 0-3, Josh Morse 0-2, Bryden Vukasin 0-2, Bill Siebrasse 0-2.