Victory in Elite Eight for Diamond Dogs

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If you had said that the Morgan County Diamond Dogs would get beat 10-0 in run-rule fashion in game two, but won the series 2-1, there would have been many doubters.  That’s what happened not only in this series with the Pike County Pirates, but also in the Pace Academy series where the Dogs lost 19-4 in the first game.  This is a special team that may have Lady Luck, or destiny, on their side.

Game one of the Pike series didn’t get off to the start the Dogs would have liked.  The Pirates got an unearned run in the first inning after Morgan committed two errors.  Starter Hunter Lane was dominant through five innings when he allowed no earned runs.  The crafty junior only struck out one in the game, but he kept the Pike hitters off balance and let his defense do their thing by forcing weak grounders and fly balls from his opponent.

With Pike leading 1-0, the Dogs answered back in the bottom of the second inning with a run to tie things up.  Trey Patterson led the inning off with a scorching double right on the line that died in the left field corner.  Grant Cofer, not to be outdone, followed that up with a double of his own on a one-hopper to the fence in the left centerfield gap.  He never advanced beyond that as the next three hitters couldn’t make anything happen at the plate.

Morgan put more runs on the board in the fourth to take a 3-1 advantage.  With one out, Cofer got his second hit of the afternoon with a single.  Tuke Robinson came in as his pinch runner and showed why he is so valuable to the team.  He reached second on an error and took third on an errant throw that would have had most players with less speed dead in their tracks.  It was a great head first slide as he hooked outside the baseline to just catch the bag with his left hand.  He later scored on a wild pitch.  The Dogs had the bases loaded and got a second run when Hunter Christian drew a walk to score Jacob Anderson who had reached on an error.

The Dogs struck again in the fifth.  Lane led off the inning with a double off the left field fence.  With Patterson up next, he continued his hot hitting with a towering homer to left field for two RBI’s and the 5-1 lead, but the Pirates weren’t ready to concede.

In the sixth, Pike pulled to within two runs after a single and a home run made things 5-3.  In the top of the seventh, with the pressure building for the Dogs, the Pirates pushed another run across to make it 5-4.  A leadoff double, a sacrifice fly, and a single led to the run, and the tying run was on first.  With two outs, the ace of the staff and leader of the team, came through with a weak grounder to second that Hunter Christian gobbled up for the final out and the 1-0 series lead.

Game two had few highlights for the Dogs.  They took a 10-0 five-inning, run-rule loss that evened up the series and sent the teams to a game three do-or-die situation.  The coaching staff did a great job of handling the pitchers and the pitch counts, preserving both Lane and Ethan Stamps for game three.  Starting pitcher Stamps was replaced by Jaron Ferguson in the second inning after uncharacteristically having trouble finding the strike zone and giving up four runs.  He would get his revenge in game three.  Things might have been totally different if Morgan could have gotten a key hit in the first inning.  With two outs, MOCO loaded the bases after Lane and Patterson singled and Cofer walked, but couldn’t come away with any runs.  Only one Bulldog runner reached second over the final four innings.

Just as they did in the Pace series, Morgan hit the reset button in game three and put the loss behind them.  It was Stamps again on the mound with 87 pitches remaining on his pitch count.  He was outstanding in the 3-2 win by striking out five.

The sophomore also got game three started with a bang.  On the fourth pitch of the night, the leadoff man blasted one over the left field fence that got out of there in a hurry to give himself and the Dogs the 1-0 lead.  Pike threatened in the first, but the Bulldog defense stood up to the test.  After the first batter reached on an error, the next hitter bunted down the right side.  Stamps quickly scooped it up and fired to second to get the lead runner.  Two wild pitches later, Pike had a runner on third.  A sharp grounder to Christian at short left the runner on third in no-man’s land.  Christian fired home to nail the tying run in a 6-2-5-2-5 rundown (if you’re keeping your own scorebook).  Stamps got the next batter to fly out to left to end the inning.

Morgan added one more run in each of the next two innings to take a 3-0 lead into the fifth.  In the top half of the second frame, and the Dogs as the visitors, Jake Anderson got things started by reaching base on an error that the second baseman couldn’t handle.  He stole second and reached third on a sacrifice fly by Blake Silvey.  Anderson scored on a great piece of hitting by Dominic Arienzo.  He lifted a deep fly ball to right to bring in the run to give the Dogs a 2-0 lead.

In the third, Cofer got the rally started by drawing a walk.  A patented single down the right field line by Anderson got Cofer to third before designated hitter Blake Silvey went the opposite way and singled through the right side.  That RBI made it 3-0 with a lot of baseball still left to play.

Pike rallied in the fifth to score two runs.  It was an inning where the Pirates got two runs and never got the ball out of the infield.  A high hop single to short, a walk, a bunt single on a close play at first, a fielder’s choice error where the umpire called the shortstop off the bag, and another fielder’s choice allowed those two runs to cross.  During the inning, Christian made a big-time play in the hole to just nip the runner at first on a quick release throw that had the fans standing to applaud the senior.  Had he not made the play, the damage could have been worse.

It was then onto the final six outs for Morgan, but they weren’t easy.  Reliever Anderson came on in relief when Stamps pitch count ran out.  With some control issues of his own, he and the Dogs were able to squash a sixth inning rally that got the tying run to second before he struck out the final batter of the inning.  In the seventh, and with their last-gasp at-bat, Anderson hit the leadoff batter, and the  second batter tried to drag a bunt down the first base line.  The ball hit him in the base path for the first out.  The junior right hander proceeded to strike out the next hitter and got a final out popup to third that Lane squeezed the life out of and then slammed to the ground.  It was over.  The Dogs had just reached the Final Four for the first time in 38 years.  They celebrated by dogpiling in the infield with the knowledge that they had finally done it.    

As of last Friday, MaxPreps still had the Dogs ranked ninth after defeating Pike County while the Pirates still remained as the second-best team in AAA.  Try to figure that one out.  Rankings don’t mean a thing until the season is over, but someone at MaxPreps is not paying attention.  Ringgold is ranked number one, Westminster came in at number seven, and Lovett holds down the number five spot.  These three plus Morgan make up the Final Four teams.  Ringgold and Westminster will face off on the other side of the bracket with the winners of the two series going for it all at Mercer University in Macon on May 21 in a doubleheader with the “If” game scheduled for the 23rd.

The Lovett School, as it’s called, comes in with a 24-10 record overall and 12-2 in Region play.  They compete in the same region (5AAA) as Pace and Westminster.  Lovett finished second and is the only remaining two seed in the playoffs.  That region has two teams, Westminster and Lovett, in the Final Four.  The Dogs had to go through Pace in the Sweet Sixteen as well.  It’s a stacked region with two private schools still in the hunt, but let’s not discuss that part.

With incoming weather scheduled for Tuesday, the Lovett series was pushed up a day to Monday.  See the results of the doubleheader on page B1.

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