By R. Alan Richardson
Morgan County faced off with the perennial powerhouse from Watkinsville Monday night in their home and season opener at Tracy Brown Field. The Dogs came up on the short end of the stick 10-5 while showing off some new faces as well as seasoned veterans that give this team a chance to be improved from a year ago.
8-AAA looks a lot different this year with the loss of Oconee County and Jefferson to AAAA. The Dogs should be in the mix for a strong finish in the region standings come playoff time and a possible state playoff berth.
The cool weather and early-season concerns gave Coach Merritt Ainslie the opportunity to put several pitchers on the mound. Freshman Ethan Stamps was the starter showing some good pitches and also a few nerves in his high school debut, but that’s to be expected. Jaron Ferguson came on in relief as did Trey Patterson and then Jacob Anderson in the 7th inning. The night was a lot about pitch counts and getting some experience under their belts.
Stamps struck out the first batter, but Oconee then singled and got hit by a pitch before a long sacrifice fly to center scored the first run of the contest. Ferguson made a great play on the ball as he went up against the fence to get the out and allowing only one run to score. The next batter flew out to right to end the threat.
The Dogs answered back with three runs of their own in the bottom of the inning sending three runs across to take a 3-1 lead. Dalton Cole singled to start the rally and was sacrificed by Hunter Christian. Hunter Lane drew a walk and Stamps hit a bullet to left to load the bases. Catcher Dakota Young cleared the bases with a shot to the wall in left center to round out the scoring.
Both teams struggled in the second at the plate to leave the score at 3-1. The Warriors got two runs in the top of the third with some Morgan help on walks and errors. The Bulldogs came away empty-handed in the bottom half to leave things tied at 3-3.
Even though MOCO pulled off a double play during the fourth, Oconee still managed to get across three more to take the lead at 6-3. Morgan battled back at the plate when pinch runner Keirreon Farley (for Ferguson) stole second and went to third on a sac fly by Patterson. Farley scored on a single by Grant Cofer to close the gap at 6-4.
Oconee sealed the deal in the next two innings getting one in the fifth and three in the sixth to put the Dogs in a tough situation. Oconee’s relief staff closed the door on Morgan as they could only muster a single run in their last three at-bats. Morgan was plagued with timely errors and walks. One player for Oconee got hit by a pitch four times in the game. That’s something you won’t see very often. Guess he had a target on his back.
The Dogs have a busy week coming up. They play Newton at home February 15 at 5:55 and follow that up with a road game at Mary Persons on the 16th.