By Alan Richardson, Sports Editor
Morgan County’s Lady Dogs played nine games over the past two weeks going 6-3 against some stout competition to push their record to 16-6 on the season. They are currently ranked fourth in the Max Preps in the state rankings. It’s been a busy two weeks for the girls and Head Coach Doug Connelly so here’s the skinny. The Lady Dogs started out with a 6-2 win over 5A opponent Loganville and came away with a 6-2 win to start the week on a positive note. Connelly said, “We played really good softball and came out swinging the bats in the first inning scoring four runs.
Alishia Frierson hit one of the longest homeruns I’ve ever witnessed that hit the backstop on Puritan Field about ¾ of the way up. It was 250 feet and still going. This was a line drive that was crushed and pretty impressive.” Loganville is a quality opponent that hit the ball up and down the lineup against good pitching from Frierson. She scattered 9 hits, but she got some solid defense behind her to limit the run production of Loganville. “We are very fortunate to have two good pitchers in Frierson and Ansley Dean that can share the innings so they’ll both be fresh in October for the region tournament.” said Connelly.
Frierson had only one walk in seven innings of work and only one error by the defense. Wednesday the team took on a very young Monticello team that may give folks problems in the future. Connelly commented on the game, “They have a sophomore lefty pitcher that kept us off balance all day and that’s something we don’t see very often.” The team came away with a 2-1 victory with Dean pitching six innings before giving way to Frierson for the save. This past weekend the Lady Dogs played five games in two days in the Lady Dog Invitational held at their new softball complex and finished second out of eight teams that competed. The format was similar to the World Cup style of play where the teams competed in a round robin format in two different pools. Each team in the pool of four played each of the other three teams to see who would advance to the next round. The top two teams in each pool would compete in the Championship Gold round while the two bottom teams would play in the Championship Silver round. Tiebreakers were also involved if team records were tied.
Morgan faced off with Banks County in Friday’s opening round. The Lady Dogs were rolling along with a 2-0 lead going into the seventh inning after scoring runs in the first and sixth innings. However, Banks put together a string of hits and got it going to take a 3-2 lead. Morgan had one last at-bat to try and tie or win the game. The leadoff batter got on and was sacrificed to second. Sarah Couch then hit a bullet to centerfield and the game ended on a bang-bang play at home as the runner was questionably called out to potentially tie the game and send it to extra innings. Coach Connelly remarked after the game, “This was a tough one to swallow. The last three outs are hard and the toughest to come by. They put the pressure on us, but I was proud of the way we came back and answered them. We didn’t hang our heads and I’m proud of that.” This put Morgan’s back against the wall as their goal, according to Connelly, was to win the Gold bracket going into the tournament. He said, “We had to treat this like a state playoff series of three games. It was a great opportunity to see what we’re made of.” Morgan had to play a good 4A Monroe team that is ranked in the top 10, but secured a 12-0 win with nice pitching, defense, hitting, and base running.
Connelly was pleased with the overall effort saying, “This was a good experience of knowing how it feels to be down 1-0 in a series. We were relentless on the bases and at the plate.” Frierson pitched the four inning shortened game giving up only two hits with superb control. The defense was again solid behind her and the girls were now 1-1 in their pool. This win pitted the Lady Dogs against 6A Duluth High School in a must-win situation to reach the goal Saturday morning. Duluth competes in a very tough, heavy-hitting region and is known as a scrappy group. Duluth scored four in the first while Morgan went three up and three down. This put the girls behind the eight ball, but they responded by scoring 18 unanswered runs to take the 18-4 win in four innings. Frierson had two homeruns along with seven RBI’s while Liz Couch also homered. The team had 13 hits in the contest. “Duluth gave us a taste of our own medicine. We’ve been stressing being aggressive at the plate and getting ahead early, but they took it to us. The bats woke up and it put us in the Championship bracket where we wanted to be,” said Connelly. The team ended up in a three way tie for first, but due to the tiebreaker of fewest runs allowed, ended up with a first-place seed in their pool.
Coach Connelly was proud of the fact that they had given up the fewest runs remarking, “We’ve been known as an offensive team the last three years. We’ve put in a ton of work of the defensive side and feel like it’s paying off.” This would put them up against the number two seed of Heritage High School who were one of the favorites going into the tournament. Heritage is a 5A school that sports a college scholarship pitcher headed to the University of Central Florida. Morgan won the game 5-0. Connelly described it this way, “It was a high quality win for us against a quality team. It was our best all-around game of the year.” Frierson pitched the shutout allowing only five hits with zero walks and two strikeouts. She had good control again and good defense to back her up. “We are making plays on defense behind our pitcher only having one error in the game. We also had some timely hitting when we needed it,” said the head coach. Liz Couch had a two run homerun and Alisha Ellis was 3-4 as both put together good tournaments for the Lady Dogs.
The Championship Gold Game against Locust Grove was one that will go down as one of the best in Connelly’s involvement with the tournament. Morgan took it on the chin in a disappointing 3-2 loss that went nine innings. “After the game I thought now that was a championship game. That’s what a championship game should look like,” remarked Connelly. Locust Grove’s pitcher did a nice job show good movement and location on her pitches, but Morgan and their opponent were both able to scratch runs across during regulation. This brought up the International Tiebreaker Rule that says: “In extra innings the previous inning’s last out will be put on second base automatically to start the next inning.”
Since Morgan was the visitor, it put them at somewhat of a disadvantage. It’s kind of like the college football overtime playoff where you want to be the last team to try and score after you see what your opponent does. Morgan’s leadoff batter in the top of the eighth pushed a bunt over the head of a hard-charging third baseman to put runners on first and third with Frierson at the plate. Connelly described it like this, “Obviously I’m biased, but Alishia hit a moonshot that I thought went right over the left field foul pole. It was called foul. The umpires did a great job in the game, but that call would have put us in the driver’s seat. We missed a huge opportunity there.” The team managed to get a run across after Couch stole second and Dean reached first on an infield single to load the bases. Ellis hit a long fly sacrifice. The Morgan runner scored to take a 2-1 lead and Connelly told us he was breathing a little easier. Locust Grove was also able to tie the game in the bottom of the inning after a sacrifice bunt and a dying quail single to make it 2-2. The ninth was another nail-biter with Morgan failing to score in the top of the inning giving the Locust Grove the advantage. They sacrificed the automatic runner on second to third that was followed up by a throwing error to score the runner and win the game 3-2.
Connelly described that last game like this, “Locust Grove played lights out and deserved to be the champion. It was a playoff atmosphere and I’m glad we were in it. We’ll be better for having been in it. To be honest, a lot of times when you lose a close game like that it makes you self-reflect a little more than if you’d pulled it out.” The last two games of this long stretch were a tale of two games that were entirely opposites. Morgan played lights-out against East Jackson winning 5-2 while losing to Jackson County 7-2 in 8-AAA contests. Morgan went right at East Jackson in the first when Sarah Couch walked and was then driven in on a triple by Frierson. A throwing error allowed Frierson to score to take a 2-0 lead. The dynamic duo again accounted for two more runs in the sixth when Couch singled and Frierson immediately homered. The Lady Dogs added an insurance run in the seventh. Carver started the inning off with a double, was sacrificed to third, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Alissa Webb.
East Jackson scored runs in the fourth and sixth innings, but the game was never in doubt. The Jackson County game was pitcher dominated by Panther pitcher Jessie Marvin who held the Lady Dogs at bay the entire evening. Alishia Frierson was the starter for the Lady Dogs. Both pitchers were almost perfect through three innings giving up only one hit. Jackson exploded in the fourth sending 11 batters to the plate while scoring six runs. The big blow of the inning occurred with two outs and the bases full. Jackson’s Lauren Barrett (hitting in the ninth spot) hit a shot down the left field line that cleared the bases to give the visitors a 6-2 lead. Morgan added two in the sixth when Frierson blasted a solo homerun deep to left centerfield. Ansley Dean followed that up with a double.
With two outs, Alissa Webb doubled again scoring Dean from second before the rally was stopped and that was as close as the Lady Dogs would get. Dean also came on in relief to finish out the game. Leading the way offensively was Sarah Couch who went 2-4. Coach Connelly said, “Right now they’re playing better softball than we are. They’ve beaten us twice in region games and have a very good pitcher.”