By R. Alan Richardson
It’s that time again for the Lady Diamond Dogs. They head into the week with playoff softball and Columbus in their sights as they face off with Greater Atlanta Christian (GAC) in the first round of the AAA state softball playoffs.
This week, the team helped its cause by finishing third in the 8-AAA Region Tournament after a fourth-place regular season close. Morgan defeated East Jackson 14-2 in the opening round of double-elimination play before falling to the number one seeded Jackson County Panthers and Franklin County. The third-place finish will pit MOCO with GAC on Wednesday in Norcross in a two-out-of-three series to determine who moves on to round two. The Lady Spartans finished second in Region 7-AAA with a record of 13-9 overall and 9-5 in region play behind East Hall (according to Max Preps).
According to Head coach Jason McBay, GAC is a close-knit group with only 11 players on their roster. They are coached by former University of North Georgia and Georgia Tech All-American as well as professional pitcher, Jessica Coan, a GAC graduate. “She does a sound job,” he said. “They will be excited to play us and will have a raucous crowd (in a good way). Just a few years back they were a powerhouse. They’ve worked hard to get the two seed, but haven’t been there like we have the past two years.”
Asked if he thought experience could play a role for his Lady Dogs, he commented, “It could play a part after the last couple of years these players have experienced. But, we do have some inexperienced freshmen and sophomores as well. I think that’s why we’ve been sort of a Jekyll and Hyde team this year. Sometimes they’ve played like underclassmen and the older players may have been trying to do too much. You can’t hit a seven-run homer. If we can get those two things matched up, the magnitude of the moment could work to our advantage. We’ve had an up-and-down year, but if we can get the girls to just lead and the younger ones to enjoy the moment we could have a good thing going here.”
Pitching is always key in fast-pitch softball and this series will be no different. Katee Finney will most likely face GAC ace Faith Vinto. McBay talked about her strengths. “She’s not a big player, but she throws with a big heart. Her drop curve and rise make it difficult by inducing a lot of weak grounders and fly balls. She works fast, throws strikes, relies on her defense, and has a former professional as her coach. We need to have a good approach at the plate. If we don’t, it could be over quick.”
GAC’s middle infield is made up of two Division-I signees in Maddie Marchiando (Stetson) and Amanda Briskin (Sanford). “They are the backbone of the team and both are hitting over .500 this season. They’ve kept me up with the havoc they wreak. The rest of the team looks like a bunch of clones. Nobody really stands out physically, but also no one stands out for the wrong reasons either. They’re all athletic and move around well and they are not going to beat themselves. It’s a high quality team with high quality girls from the outside looking in,” said McBay.
Morgan used its indoor facility in the old Morgan County gym to practice Monday due to the weather and it was a good one. They had batting cages going with live pitching as well as tee hitting stations while others were working on bunting, fielding, and other fundamentals. According to McBay, practice was set up well and key strategies for the series along with a few wrinkles were put into place.
Around the state, Worth County could be the favorite to win it all, but Calhoun always puts a quality team in the tournament. Region 8-AAA winner Jackson County went undefeated through the regular season and tournament. McBay says that he fully expects to see them in Columbus as well.
The team still has some of their goals intact. McBay said, “Some of our goals have been blown out of the water, but the main one, going to Columbus, is still out there and only four games away. We just need to go make it happen. I like our chances. We’re one of the top 32 teams still playing on Wednesday.”
Game times for Wednesday (Oct. 11) are set for 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The “if needed” game will be played Thursday at 5:30 p.m.. Weather could play a role in this week’s schedule.