After a disappointing first round loss in 2017, the Morgan County baseball team left no doubt in this series by taking two straight over East Hall to move into the second round of the State Playoffs. Hunter Lane got the nod in game one, coming away with a 6-1 win, while Ethan Stamps pitched a complete game shutout in the second game bringing home a 2-0 victory for the Bulldogs. Both pitchers seemed to have an edge about them. Lane said before the game, “I’ve been waiting on this for a whole year.”
The Vikings came into the series as the number four seed from Region 7AAA with a record of 13-16 overall and an 8-10 league record. They took a 1-0 lead in the third inning behind three singles and a sacrifice bunt, but it would be their only run of the game and for the night. The Bulldogs answered in their half of the inning. With one out, shortstop Stamps hit a towering homerun to right field that cleared the scoreboard to tie things up. Jaron Ferguson followed with a walk and was sacrificed to second by Lane. Grant Cofer came up big with a double down the right field line that looked like an easy out when it left the bat. However, the wind carried the ball away from the right fielder to score the second run of the game. The next batter, catcher Trey Patterson ripped a shot off the centerfield fence that just missed going out. He legged it out for a triple to drive in Cofer. Patterson scored later in the inning to give the Dogs a 4-1 advantage.
After the third, East Hall never got a runner past second as Lane shut the door the remainder of the way. MOCO got two more insurance runs in the fifth when Stamps led off the inning with a double down the right field line, moved to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a Lane single to right that drove both Stamps and Ferguson. The two RBI hit helped his own cause and Morgan coasted home from there.
Lane was outstanding on the mound. He struck out five and only walked one batter in the seventh. The Vikings only managed four hits in the game with three of them coming in one inning. His control and command of pitches were right on point for the junior right hander. It was a beauty.
On a beautiful day for baseball, the second game started with Morgan as the visiting side. It didn’t take them long to take the lead in a tight contest. After going three-up-and-three-down in the first, Cofer led off the second inning with a walk and then stole second (You read that right). The big fella chugged into second to put himself in scoring position. Shortstop Christian Hunter singled him in for the RBI and the 1-0 lead. It was a pitcher’s duel, but Stamps got the best of East Hall’s ace by striking out nine and walking only two in the game. The sophomore seemed more focused in this game than we’ve seen him all season. His fast ball was on target and the Vikings had a long night catching up with it. When he threw the curve, it was usually an out-pitch. He, too was exceptional on the evening with some of the best stuff the young guy has thrown all year.
In a controversial seventh inning, the Dogs got a runner on when Lane singled and manufactured a run all on his own. The third baseman immediately stole second and went to third on an errant throw from the catcher. He remained there with two outs. On a gutsy call by Coach Merritt Ainslie, and the pitcher throwing from a full windup, Lane attempted to steal home. He was out at the plate, but the home plate umpire had already called a balk on the Vikings pitcher so the run gave Morgan an insurance run going into the bottom of the seventh.
After the balk was called, the Vikings coach came roaring out of the dugout and the fans were hysterical over the call. Morgan’s bench had immediately seen the balk on the throw to home plate and the umpires were in agreement. That did not keep the coach from getting into a heated argument as he went chest-to-chest and nose-to-nose with the man in blue. Another umpire had to step in between them to keep things from getting even worse. It’s amazing he didn’t get tossed. There have been many coaches thrown out of games for much less than was seen after the balk was called.
All this seemed to get Stamps hyped up even more for the final three outs. He forced the first two batters to fly out to right field before striking out the final batter. Pandemonium ensued as the dugout erupted and the players celebrated the victory near third base.
Coach Merritt Ainslie commented on the win. “We had most things go our way from timely hitting to really good pitching and defense. There was some good energy from all the players and great community support that helped pull us through. Focusing on each pitch is now the key. The boys really want to do well and that’s exciting for a coaching staff.”
One mar on the game came afterwards as the umpires left the field. Some East Hall fans ran toward the gate where the umpires were leaving the field. Apparently, they were still upset about the balk call that really had no bearing on the final outcome. According to eyewitnesses, one fan allegedly hurled profane remarks at the home plate umpire and another allegedly pushed the crew chief into the back of the visitors’ dugout. It was an embarrassing way to end a great win for the Bulldogs.
However, the boys didn’t let any of the extracurriculars stop them from enjoying the win as they hooped and hollered it up in left field. It was as though they were relieved to revenge that loss from a year ago and happy to be moving on to the second round.
Second round State Playoff action will resume Thursday, May 3 at 4:30 with a doubleheader against Pace Academy. Pace is the number three seed out of Region 5AAA that also sports two other private schools; Lovett and Westminster. The Knights finished third with a 10-4 Region record and are 22-8 on the season. They are ranked right ahead of Morgan in the MaxPreps AAA poll at number nine while the Bulldogs are posted as the number 10 team in the state. The “if” game will be played Friday if necessary at 6:00. All series games will be hosted by Morgan County at Tracy Brown Field. Admission for Friday will be $10 per GHSA rules.