In the on-deck circle before his at-bat in the third inning, Tre Morris smiled when he heard Trey Harris, a junior on the Missouri baseball team, yell from the stands: "I got you, stud. I got you, bro."
"He loves messing with me," Morris said after the Battle baseball team beat Southern Boone 13-2 Monday in a game shortened to five innings by the mercy rule.
Before his at-bats, Morris emulates some of Harris' pre-pitch routine. Morris digs deep into the batter's box with both feet. He takes one step back with his left foot and mirrors that motion with his right. Morris then stands straight up, planting his right foot slightly behind his left one.
After all that, in Morris' third-inning appearance, the first pitch sailed high, the next two missed wide and the fourth one was too low. Morris dropped his bat, tossed his elbow pad in frustration and trotted to first base for a walk.
The word has spread quickly: Morris is a feared hitter and the Eagles, like many other opponents, didn't want the Spartans' hulking junior catcher to beat them.
"You could tell everything was going to be off the plate," Battle Coach Doug Boyer said after Morris notched two four-pitch walks in his three plate appearances. "It was just a matter of him catching that mistake pitch. ... He was trying to do everything he could to get a bat on something."
Morris' teammates showed why the Spartans (13-11) are far from a one-man show. Senior ace Mason Hunter didn't allow a hit in his 4 1/3 innings. Battle knocked around Southern Boone (10-10) by amassing 11 hits. The Spartans posted crooked numbers in three straight innings, highlighted by a six-run third inning during which Battle sent 13 batters to the plate. Jaren Lewis and Payton Roberts each hit two-run doubles.
"We were glad to finally get the sticks going again," Boyer said.
Although the Eagles were hitless against Hunter, Battle stuck to the original plan. Boyer wanted to have his team's remaining senior pitchers — Christian Verslues and Cody Heider — have a proper sendoff in their final home games.
Hunter, who struck out 10 batters — including six in a row at one point — knew he would be pulled after the first out in the inning. Jarel Hyler hauled in pop fly a few feet from the mound. Hunter exchanged high-fives with his teammates and received a standing ovation as he walked back to the dugout. Kolton Schupp, the first hitter to face Verslues, lashed a single through the right side of the infield for Southern Boone's first hit, and the Eagles scored a pair of runs.
Hunter, an Eastern Illinois signee, looked sharp in his final tuneup before the Class 5 District 9 Tournament. Battle, the No. 4 seed, will play Smith-Cotton at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Jefferson City.
"I'm feeling really good," said Hunter. whose fastball was too much for Southern Boone's hitters. "I'm glad we're on a roll right now. This is where we want to be."
The significance of Monday's game was more than baseball. It was the Strike Out Cancer game. Morris' mother, Heather, is battling breast cancer.
"I tried to act like it was a normal game," Tre said. "I really don't like showing my emotions."
Harris said he considers Heather to be his second mother. He watched much of the game from the first row behind home plate and sat next to Heather. The two chatted and laughed.
"Honestly, she had no reason to help me, but something touched her heart, and so I'm here for her," Harris said of Heather, the director of advanced learning for the Missouri athletic department. "She's easily the strongest person I know."
While they are separated by four years, Harris and Morris have developed a close bond around baseball ever since the latter's first year of high school. They spend plenty of time together in the batting cage. Harris hopes one day that the Tigers will offer Morris a baseball scholarship.
"I love that kid," Harris said. "That's my dog. I just look at him as my little brother."
Hunter, who has known Morris for even longer, said he had the family on his mind throughout the game. Hunter lives a few doors down from the Morris family.
"I wanted to go out there and do good for them," Hunter said. "It was a bigger than just a game tonight. We wanted to make a statement, and I feel like we did just that."
Email Joe Vozzelli Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 815-1788