By R. Alan Richardson
All good things must come to an end, I guess. Morgan County’s 2017 season ended Saturday with an 11-4 loss in game three to the Calhoun Yellowjackets. The two teams played a double header Friday night and came away with a split decision. Calhoun took the first one 3-1 but the Dogs bounced back to win game two 5-1. Outstanding pitching performances were turned in in both games Friday as all four starters for both units pitched complete games. Ethan Stamps and Hunter Lane took it to Calhoun in gutsy performances. Dalton Cole was the game three starter but was haunted by four errors in the fourth inning before giving way to relievers. He pitched well giving up only one earned run on a homer in the second inning.
Game one started off pretty well for MOCO. The Calhoun starter went three-up-and-three-down in the first two innings before the Dogs got a two out single in the third from Cole who was pushed to third on a Jaron Ferguson single and scored on a throwing error by Calhoun’s centerfielder. Hunter Lane followed that up with another single, but Ferguson was thrown out at the plate on a very marginal bang-bang call that had Morgan’s fans roaring and the coaches fuming. It could have been the play of the game because it ended the rally and an opportunity for the Dogs to score some extra runs in the third.
Stamps held Calhoun to two hits until the fifth when they scored the tying and go-ahead runs on two hits and two walks. The visitors got an insurance run in the sixth when the leadoff hitter laced one to the right centerfield fence followed by a throwing error and a fielder’s choice to score. The Dogs pulled off a beautiful 5-4-3 double play to end the inning from Lane to Cole to Grant Cofer to choke off the rally. Two of Calhoun’s three runs were unearned.
Morgan was stifled at the plate all evening by Brett Potts. The lefty only faced 26 batters over seven innings giving up just five hits over that span. He had the Dogs off balance and out in front with his off-speed stuff that he followed up with a sneaky fastball. No Morgan batter had more than one hit in the loss.
Morgan now had their backs against the wall. It was win or go home and the Dogs came through behind a stellar pitching performance by Lane tying the series up 1-1 in the nightcap. The junior gave up one hit over his first four innings while facing 13 players at the plate (one hitter reached base). The defensive play of the year came from Cole who was playing third in the fourth inning. Calhoun hit a heat seeking missile to his left that Cole dove full out to stab. He turned 360 degrees in pirouette mode to nail the runner at first. It was a major league play that Coach Ainslie called a “WOW” play. Cole got the help he needed on the throw as always sure-handed Cofer at first picked the throw cleanly out of the dirt. The dugout erupted. One player called it the “Best play I’ve ever seen, even on Television.” He was right.
The Dog bats went to work beginning in the second when Cofer led off with a walk, moved to third on Jacob Anderson’s double off the left field fence, and scored when Hunter Christian got the sacrifice to the right side. One of the strangest plays you’ll ever see cost Morgan a run in the third. Ferguson singled up the middle and was sacrificed to third by Lane on a bunt and Stamps’ infield out to second. Ainslie put on the squeeze with Dakota at the plate. He missed the outside pitch and stayed in the batter’s box as Lane slid in safely at home. The umpire called him out, not for the tag and not for obstruction by Young, but said that Young had stepped out of the batter’s box trying to bunt the pitch. It was not pretty as the Morgan coaches stormed home plate for an explanation, but never getting one that they were satisfied with.
Morgan scored two more in the third and another in both the sixth and seventh stanzas. Cole walked in the third and scored on a Ferguson double to the right centerfield fence. Lane was not to be outdone as he followed Fergie up with a double of his own to the same spot for the RBI. The Dogs led 3-0 and things were looking good. The sixth inning saw Anderson single up the middle to start things off. He moved to second on a balk and scored on a Trey Patterson single. The final run came with two outs in the top of the seventh. Stamps singled in the hole, took second on a wild pitch, and scored on another throwing error by Calhoun.
Calhoun got something going in the sixth with four straight singles, but only got one run out of it. With the bases loaded, Lane pitched out of the bases loaded jam by getting out two with a strikeout and a weak grounder to third for the force out. The Dogs ended all hopes for the Yellowjackets in the seventh with a 4-6-3 double play killer and the 5-1 win.
It all came down to one game. Unfortunately, this was not Morgan’s day taking the disheartening 11-4 loss to end their hopes of moving into the Sweet Sixteen next week. Morgan held a comfortable 4-1 lead going into Calhoun’s fourth inning at bat. They exploded for five runs in the inning to take the 6-4 lead and four more in the fifth before scoring one more in the sixth. Cole, Ferguson, and Anderson pitched for Morgan, but the mistakes in the field and deep pitching on the mound for Calhoun proved to be the downfall for MOCO.
The 2-1 series loss was not an easy pill to swallow for our coaches, players, and especially the seniors (Cole and Young). Calhoun is no slouch! They only finished out of the region 6-AAA second seed by two games with a region record of 12-6 with five of those losses being one run games. They have been to the state playoffs for the past 17 years straight and won it all in 2015. The pitching through Saturday was the best Morgan faced all season. The number one and two starters were both lefties which the Dogs haven’t faced much this season. The game three starter threw in the upper eighties with a nasty off-speed curve to go along with his cheese. The Dogs have absolutely nothing to hang their heads about.
The fans of this county have been treated to watching one of the all-time best baseball teams fielded at Morgan County High School. Congratulations on a fantastic year!