With thoughts of a first-ever State Championship for the Morgan County Diamond Dogs, the biggest crowd in the storied history of the baseball program gathered at Tracy Brown field Monday night. They came away disappointed that the doubleheader didn’t end the way they would have liked. Morgan lost both games of the doubleheader to Lovett in run-rule fashion 13-3 and 11-1. It was a heartbreaking way to end what many would argue was the best season in the annals of MCHS baseball.
Lovett was simply better than the Dogs on this night. MOCO was outhit and outpitched by a very, very good baseball team. Their two starters gave Morgan fits at the plate, and the lineup put wood to cowhide in some great at-bats. It was their night from start to finish. You have to give them a tip of the cap and wish them well in the State Championship Series at Mercer next week. Let’s all just hope that it’s not an all private school final. Westminster will be playing Ringgold later this week to decide the other team of the matchup in the finals.
In the first game of the doubleheader, Lane took the mound for the Dogs. He cruised through the first two innings allowing only one runner to reach second. The first batter of the night for Lovett legged out an infield hit only to get picked off seconds later by Lane. In the third stanza, Lovett loaded the bases with only one out before Lane buckled down to strike out the next batter and got an out to third on a soft liner to end the threat.
The fourth inning was a nightmare for Morgan. Lovett got two runners on with a single and hit batsman with two outs. The Lions sent nine batters to the plate after that and scored 10 runs in the inning before the Dogs could stop the onslaught. Morgan didn’t quit as they answered with three runs in the bottom half of the inning. Lane singled to right and stole second base. Two outs later, Jacob Anderson got hold of a Lovett fastball and sent it over the left centerfield fence. The two RBI’s kept Morgan from losing 10-0 after four innings and kept the Dogs alive. Later in the inning Blake Silvey reached on an error, moved to second on a wild pitch, and eventually scored on a second wild pitch to put the score at 10-3. Unfortunately, Lovett got those three runs back in the fifth to leave the Dogs with one more chance to score to keep their hopes alive. Hunter Christian started the inning off with a double down the left field line that stayed fair. He moved to third on a Stamps single and was 90 feet away from again keeping the Dogs in it. After a Bulldog strikeout, the Lions pulled a picture perfect 4-6-3 double play to end the game 13-3.
Being down 1-0 after the first game wasn’t unchartered territory for Morgan. They had come back in the two previous series from similar situations, so the fans didn’t hit the panic button. It was their time to shine with Stamps on the mound for game two.
Morgan went three-up-and-three down in their first two at-bats and didn’t get a hit until the fifth inning. Meanwhile, Lovett scored two runs in the first inning on a hit batter, a double, and a single to take the 2-0 lead. Stamps struck out the side, but the damage had been done. The Dogs were playing from behind again.
Lovett struck again in the second with one out. The three-run inning might have been limited if not for a Morgan error. The Lions got three singles, a walk, another hit batsman to take a 5-0 lead. They never looked back.
Morgan put runners on in the third when Blake Silvey reached on an error by the pitcher, but the pinch runner was caught stealing third after Christian moved him to second on a sacrifice bunt. That ended the threat.
Stamps shut the door on the Lions in the third and fourth innings, but in the fifth they got on the board for two more runs when a homerun followed a hit batter to push the lead to 7-0.
Morgan got a little life in the top half of the sixth when Lane singled sharply to right field and scored on a double by Trey Patterson to cut the lead to 7-1.
It was not to be. A walk, a single, and two errors later, Lovett had pushed four runs across the plate to take the 11-1 victory and the series.
It’s been a season to remember. Third-year head coach Merritt Ainslie and his staff has taken the program to new heights this season with a school record 26 wins, back-to-back Region 8-AAA Championships, and only the second trip to the Final Four in school history. The best part of this story is that the entire pitching staff will return intact. Hunter Lane and Jacob Anderson will return for their senior season, and Ethan Stamps will only be a junior. Senior losses will have a major impact on the Dogs a year from now, but a stout core of returners will continue to put the Dogs right back in the hunt.
Let’s give all these guys a huge shout-out for giving us some of the most exciting moments we’ve seen in recent memory. Thanks and congratulations go out to the 2018 Morgan County High School Diamond Dogs. It’s been fun!