The season opener featured the Diamond Dogs facing a team that will rejoin 8-AAA in 2018-19, the Jefferson Dragons. Morgan came up short in this one managing only three scattered hits over seven innings in the 4-0 loss. Starting pitcher Hunter Lane showed why he was the 8-AAA pitcher-of-the-year in 2017 by holding Jefferson to a measly three hits in four innings of work on the mound. However, it wasn’t easy for the senior right-hander as he had to pitch his way out of jams in the first, third and fourth innings. After walking two batters in the first, the defense stood up with AJ Stinnett throwing out a runner at third. Lane finished off the next batter by striking him out to end the inning. He went three-up and three-down in the second, but got in trouble in the third when the ninth hitter doubled to right center that Stinnett almost robbed him of on a diving try. The next batter walked and a bunt single followed to load the bases. Lane proceeded to strikeout the next two and ended the inning on a fly ball to right.
Jefferson again loaded the bases in the fourth on a single, error, and walk. A sac fly to center scored the lone unearned run off Lane on the evening to take a 1-0 lead. He ended the outing with five strikeouts while walking four.
Jefferson threatened again in the fifth against reliever, Grant Cofer. Back-to-back singles put runners in scoring position before Jacob Anderson made the play of the night with a diving catch in right field running full speed to his right. He saved a run, maybe two, and then turned the double play by tossing to second to force out a runner who thought the ball fell in for a hit. The play ended the inning.
The sixth was disastrous for Morgan. The Dragons came away with three runs on three walks, a hit batsman, and a single. Stinnett threw out a runner at third during the melee that possibly saved the Dogs from additional damage.
All-in-all, it was not the Dogs’ night at the plate going 3-23. Lone hits came off the bats of Trey Patterson, Ethan Stamps, and Brandon Batchelor who had a double to the fence in right field in the fifth. Morgan did have a rally going in the sixth when they loaded the bases on three consecutive walks with two outs. The key hit they needed wasn’t to be as the next batter went down swinging to end the inning.
The Dogs are now 2-1 after road wins over Oconee County 3-2 and a rematch with Jefferson 3-0.
Here are comments from Coach Merritt Ainsle on how the Dogs are looking so far: “Good first week. Pitching and defense is ahead of hitting which is normal. I’m seeing signs of the hitting coming to life with better swings and balls being driven because we are choosing to swing at better pitches that allow us to drive the ball consistently.
Two of the first things I look at when evaluating hitters at any point in the season (especially when they are struggling at the plate) is: #1 Do they have confidence when they step in the batters box?…Do they have the mindset that ‘this pitcher will not beat me’? #2 Does that batter have the right approach?…Are our batters swinging at a hitters pitch early in the count or the pitch the pitcher wants him to swing at to get him behind early? When we step in the box confident that the pitcher will not beat us and swing at pitches early in the count that we have the ability to get good barrel on, our quality at-bats increase, our production increase, and the amount of runs we produce increases. I always tell the guys that you do not have to be a great hitter to be a great offensive player. Once we convince ourselves to master #1 and #2 above, we will be really good offensive players that produce a lot of quality at-bats to help the TEAM win.”
Here are some of the coach’s notables through the first three games: “Ethan Stamps is tearing it up at the plate right now and pitching nicely for us with a .500 batting average through three games, three RBIs, and two doubles. He’s a pure ball player that has been very good at #1 and #2 above. Jacob Anderson threw a complete game shutout against Jefferson last Friday, striking out 10, walking two, and giving up three hits. Grant Cofer is batting .364 with two RBIs and four singles through three games. Hunter Lane’s batting average doesn’t reflect what I judge him on most with is quality at-bats. He’s 10 for 13 in the quality at-bat statistic which is around 77% for the year. I ask my team to have 60% QABs for each game (I have seven things that constitute a QAB for the players and only one of them is ‘get a hit’) and Hunter is carrying his weight with that.
We have gotten everyone in so far this season and continue to evaluate our players in game conditions at game speed which in my opinion is the only way to truly evaluate the players. The most important part of the season is March 9 through May 26 so we are working hard now to produce well over that three month period.”
Dogs will host the Oconee County Warriors in a rematch on February 21 before traveling to North Oconee on February 26.