By R. Alan Richardson Sports Editor
The Morgan County Diamond Dogs got an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this past Saturday to play at the Gwinnett Braves Stadium against Jackson High School. Coach Merritt Ainslie talked about the experience, “Our players got to play in an AAA professional ballpark that very few, if any, high school players will ever get the opportunity to experience. The smells, sounds, and overall atmosphere that they experienced were something they will remember for the next 50 years. We were approached about 10 months ago by Dewayne Sapp (former North Oconee and now Dawsonville High School head coach) when they were trying to fill teams to play and we jumped all over it. It took about a year to make it happen, but they were looking for games there. We hooked up with the Gwinnett Braves, but had to give up a home game and it was well worth it.”
The Dogs didn’t come out on the winning side losing 8-4 to Jackson, but had some highly positive outcomes in the end. Merritt again weighed in saying, “It was a game where both teams threw their ace. Max Wadsworth pitched a good game, but the tale of the tape was that they didn’t miss fast balls early in the count and we did. Once you get down in the count it’s very difficult to protect the plate on off speed pitches against a very good pitcher. Bottom line was they got more hits and scored more runs against us. It was a pretty flawless game defensively by both teams, but we made some strategic base running miscues that could have made the game a little closer. I like to equate football thinking to baseball thinking when it comes to the main phases of the game. In football, you talk about offense, defense, and special teams. In baseball, it’s offense, defense, and base running as that third phase. It’s a phase that I think most teams take for granted.”
Senior centerfielder Sam Couch talked about the experience of playing in this venue saying, “It was a great experience for all of us even though we didn’t win. It was fun to be able to do something that most high school players will never get to do. The atmosphere was nice and different. We just got a new field and it is super, but this place was immaculate and unbelievable. I’ll always remember getting a chance to play on it. I thought I handled the pressure pretty well going 2-4 with a walk (He had a double and a single on the day). We were all stretching on the grass and laughing about how it looked like turf, but it was short and just perfect grass. It was something else. Outstanding!” Senior starting pitcher Max Wadsworth said, “I’ve had the opportunity to play here before. In fact it was the weekend of my good friend Seth Stapleton’s accident that caused his death that I got a call about an hour before the game and had to pitch. Every half inning it got to me, but I had to do my best for my best friend of 15 years. We had played together and known each other since we were four years old. It’s not been easy, but it gets better every day. It brings back memories.” Wadsworth also added, “To play here compared to our new high school field, it was another step higher into baseball. I work on our field at our school a lot so I appreciate what it takes to keep a field like that like it is.” Wadsworth was 3-4 in the game with two singles and a double as well as pitching five full innings before being relieved by freshmen Lane Hunter and Jaron Ferguson who did a great job. It looks like Jackson County at 6-0 and Jefferson at 5-1 in 8-AAA are the frontrunners, but the Dogs have a big three-game series this week with Oconee County that could determine who will be the third-place finisher in the region. Oconee is 1-5 in region play so if Morgan can pull out a couple of wins during the week it would put them in the driver’s seat for a possible state berth in the state playoffs. The game against Oconee on Tuesday will feature the 1997 region championship team being honored that was coached by David Wilson.