By R. Alan Richardson
After finishing up one of the most successful seasons in the history of Morgan County High School baseball, Coach Merritt Ainslie reflected on the past year like this. “It was a great year, but the ending came too quick. It was like riding the top of a wave and it crashed without riding it out all the way. They fought hard, we all fought hard and the kids showed some moxie and some grit throughout. My goals coming into this season had nothing to do with wins and losses or even championships. If you fight and compete, all those things will take of themselves. I wanted the program to have some stability and I feel we’re headed in the right direction.”
The Diamond Dogs finished with an 8-AAA Region Championship and a number one seed for only the sixth time in the past 30 years. The play was disciplined, high-powered, and fundamentally sound. It was a treat to watch this group of young men play baseball the way it was intended to be played.
Although a number four seed, Calhoun ousted the Dogs in the first round of the state playoffs 2-1 but it didn’t dampen the spirit of the fans who followed them the entire year. Calhoun destroyed Brantley County 17-4 and 9-6 in the second round to advance to the Elite Eight. That gives you a little insightas to how close the Dogs were to making a deep run.
Ainslie commented, “The guys played well together for most of the year. I think part of it was that they got along with each other and genuinely enjoyed their teammates. It was a very committed team with a very committed coaching staff that was fun to be around. I want to emphasize the great strides we made and the growth they showed from beginning to end, that they learned and were coachable.”
This team had a number of players who stood out. The losses of the two seniors (Dalton Cole and Dakota Young) will certainly present big shoes to fill a year from now. Young is an all-region caliber catcher whose blocking skills and rocket arm will be hard to replace. His .333 batting average on 26-78 from the plate tied him for third best on the squad (players with over 55 at-bats). Cole’s pitching was vital as the number three starter for Morgan and his utility ability to play second, third or outfield gave Merritt a lot of options depending on who was the starting pitcher. He recorded a 5-2 W-L profile on the mound and hit 0.241 on the season. The remainder of the lineup remains intact with a number of sophomores and freshmen that will return.
Other notable stats for MOCO were: Highest batting averages (players with over 55 at-bats) included Jaron Ferguson .385, Ethan Stamps .356, Hunter Lane .333, Young .333, Grant Cofer .297, Hunter Christian .282, Jacob Anderson .263, and Cole .241. Pitchers included Hunter Lane with an unblemished record of 11-0, Stamps at 7-3, and Cole at 5-2. Leaders in runs batted in (RBI’s) were Stamps with 39, Lane 25, Cofer 18, Anderson 17, Christian and Cole 15, and Young 13. These stats may not reflect up-to-date information.
Ainslie summed things up like this, “We’re returning our core group so that should bode well for us. We should be set up pretty good for next year.” Can the Dogs repeat as region champions? Will they be a better team a year from now? It’s hard to say, but the vote by the Morgan County faithful comes in at a resounding “YES.”