• Aaron Ferguson

Morton seniors one win away from capping long run together as champions

Vinni Massaglia sat out his junior season with arm trouble but returned to the mound as a senior and key part of the Morton Potters state championship run. (Matt Dayhoff/Journal Star)

JOLIET — Morton’s nine seniors have been playing baseball together since they were 10 years old. Now, they are one win away from a state championship.

Following an 8-1 in over LaGrange Park Nazareth on Friday at the Class 3A state finals, the Potters (29-6) will try to bring home the program’s second state title against Chicago St. Ignatius. The only other Morton baseball title was won 34 years ago.

“I’ve been playing with my best friends since I was 10 years old, so it really means a lot to finish it at this level,” said Isaac Weber, a senior outfielder. “It’s nice when I’m not playing my best that my teammates pick me up every game.”

It’s a team built on trust. The Potters have proven time and again they are smart enough to make in-game adjustments, as Kyle Killion did after flying out in his first at-bat Friday. He bounced back with three hits in his final three at-bats.

“Today, I really had to change my approach,” said Killion. “In my first at-bat, I was really trying to crush the ball and I thought I hit it real well and it didn’t go anywhere. So I changed my approach today, going for base hits and that really worked out, and I think everybody did the same thing.”

The Morton pitching staff has a 2.04 ERA. Six of its 11 pitchers seniors, including Peterson, Vinni Massaglia, twins Connor and Haegan Kelly, Weber and Isaiah Davis.

Massaglia had 10 strikeouts in Friday’s win before Connor Kelly relieved him, throwing a scoreless seventh.

Potters coach Jesse Crawford described the Kelly twins as having the “biggest personalities” on the team.

“I’ve got a lot of energy in the dugout, because I’m just a pitcher-only this year, so I’ve got to find a way to get myself into the game,” said Connor Kelly. “I try to bring a lot of positive energy to the dugout and stuff. Me and my brother, we get in pitcher’s heads and help out I think.”

Senior shortstop Evan Pfeifer also added a pair of singles in the semifinal win. Evan Heal also has used his skills and aggressiveness as a courtesy runner.

Crawford said this season is a credit to the work of the senior class. They play one final time together Saturday morning, before heading separate ways after graduating from Morton High School.

“Obviously, Logan and Vinni and (junior) Nick (Guerra) are our poster boys,” Crawford said, “but guys like Kyle Killion. ... Kyle Killion has not missed a workout in four years. In eighth grade, he was barely a starter and batting ninth, and now he’s batting cleanup and playing right for a team in the state title game and had three hits in the semi. Vinni didn’t pitch as a junior and comes out in a state semifinal and deals.”

Peterson will be in a familiar spot on Saturday when he starts the championship game on the pitcher’s mound. He also started the 2013 IESA eighth-grade championship game when Morton Junior High School lost 6-4 to Coal City.

But the senior, who is 82-25 in three seasons on Morton’s varsity roster, isn’t fazed by the big game. He has trust and confidence in how his team is playing.

“We’ve grown up trusting each other,” Peterson said, “and I think that knowing that the other eight players on the team are going to get it done at the plate and on the field, we just have a lot of fun doing it.

“It’s just another game. ... We’re not really worried about how good they are or how their stats look. I think we’re just going to go out there and play another game. We’ve won one game six times (in the postseason), so let’s just make it a seventh.”

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