Three weeks ago, the Morris baseball team stood near the bottom of Bronx A East, just one league win to its credit. The Bulldogs’ first season in ‘A,’ one year after winning the Class B city championship, wasn’t going according to plan.
The starting catcher, Luis Jose Batista, was lost because of academic ineligibility. Centerfielder Steven Marquez, the team’s leading hitter, missed four games for similar reasons.
“I don’t think the guys understood the important of being ready for the first inning,” coach Richard Corbo said.
They figured it out along the way, winning eight straight league games to garner the final playoff spot in Bronx A East at 9-7.
Morris held off Columbus, 10-7, Saturday afternoon, receiving RBIs from six different starters – Arismendy Nunez, Junior Tejada, Odanis Tejada, Smailit Feliz, Joan Delarosa and Marquez. They beat perennial city contender Clinton twice this week and Walton, who they leapfrogged to make the postseason, twice the week before.
Corbo said the team’s confidence improved in April when the Bulldogs finished second in the James Monroe Holiday Tournament, knocking off Bronx A East champion Monroe once and Queens A West champion Grand St. Campus twice. The experience in that tournament — six games in four days — aided Morris this week, when they played — and won — six games in as many days.
“I knew we could turn it around because the core was there,” Corbo said. “Once we were able to settle down and let the games come to us, we had a chance to win. It was a matter of putting it all together. I told them we had to climb out of this hole. How do we do that? Win one inning at a time. We had to remind ourselves the kind of team we are.”
It didn’t hurt that the pitching staff became a strength, led by senior Efrain Bautista, Nunez, closer Jose Quelix and reliever Dary Fernandez, all juniors. Nunez tossed a complete-game three-hitter in a 10-1 win over Clinton this week; Bautista beat Walton the week before.
In tandem with the improved pitching, the lineup came around, too, led by Marquez, the slugging outfielder. Early in the season, Morris was leaving runners on base by the bushel, but that changed.
Still, the team’s chances were slim entering the final week of the regular season. They had to win out and get outside help.
The six-game stretch began with an easy 8-1 victory over Stevenson. The next day, Corbo said, was the turning point, a come-from-behind 5-4 victory over Clinton, in which the Bulldogs rallied for five runs in the final two frames. They followed that up with three consecutive blowouts of Stevenson, Clinton and Jane Addams before Saturday’s victory over Columbus.
“I told them today if I was offered a paying job at a college, I would turn it down,” Corbo said. “That’s how proud I am.”