By R. Alan Richardson
Hunter Lane and the Morgan County Bulldogs put up 32 runs in three games to send the East Jackson Eagles home with their tail feathers on fire this week. That sweep will now set up what many fans have been predicting and looking forward to all season long. The 8-AAA Region Championship will now ride on this week’s Jefferson matchup. This one will be for all the marbles as the number one ranked Dragons and number two Bulldogs square off in what should be a doozy of a two-of-three series winner take all. Tuesday’s home game will start at 5:55 followed by a double header in Jefferson this Friday at 5:00. This could be a matchup we might see again. The next time could be for a State Championship. Let’s all hope so.
This past week’s games left no doubt that others in 8-AAA were playing for third and fourth seeds as the Dogs whipped up on East Jackson by scores of 11-0, 9-5, and 12-2. Game one, on the road, was a gem for Jacob Anderson on the mound. The senior allowed zero runs and only one hit over the course of six innings striking out two. Jaron Ferguson led the onslaught with four hits in four at bats while Seth Robertson, Anderson, Ethan Stamps, Brandyn Batchelor, and Dominic Arienzo all had multiple hits. Morgan scored three runs in the second, two in the fourth, and one in the fifth, but it was a big sixth inning that ended the game with MOCO pushing five runs across for the run-rule victory. Lane, Anderson, Silvey, and Batchelor were all instrumental in the scoring. It was an all-around solid performance with the defense playing errorless ball in the field.
Friday’s double header was when Lane put on a hitting clinic, and the team really needed it in a much closer 9-5 win. Stamps was the winning pitcher. He went seven complete innings striking out 10 Eagles while allowing only one free pass.
The Dogs jumped out to an early 3-0 lead after the first. Lane doubled off the fence in centerfield to get the party started. Stamps and Silvey drew back-to-back-walks and Lane scored on a wild pitch before Anderson singled to center to drive in both runners. They added five more in the second inning. Arienzo singled to lead off, Tristan Stapp drew a walk, and Ferguson singled to load the bases. Lane continued his hot streak by hitting a towering drive over the right field fence that left no doubt. This one got out in a hurry and cleared the bases for the grand slam and 7-0 lead. Stamps then promptly tripled to the fence and scored on a double by Anderson that was ripped to left field. The Dogs were coasting at this point with an eight run lead. Or so they thought.
East Jackson came back with four runs of their own in the third that included back-to-back doubles, a single, a walk, an error, and a balk to put the Eagles right back in business. Stamps shut the door after that point in the game holding his opponents to only five baserunners.
Morgan got another insurance run in the fourth when Ferguson led off the inning with a solo homerun that was jacked to left for the 9-4 lead. The Eagles did get one more run in the seventh with two bloop hits that found spots in no-man’s land for the 9-5 final score.
In Friday’s finale, Lane got the call on the mound, continued his hot hitting at the plate, and got the win. Ferguson pitched the final inning in another run-rule 12-2 victory.
Coach Merritt Ainslie gave us these details. “Hunter knocked the cover off the ball this week. He was knocking down fences every time he came to the plate. I’m not sure he had his best stuff on the mound, but it was a good win for him. We were hoping that Jaron would get to pitch the last three innings and get some more work in, but he’s definitely back from his shoulder injury after four or five weeks off. We’ve got to get him some work in this week against Jefferson. We’re hoping that he can pitch four full innings for us in the playoffs. We pretty much played error-free ball so the staff is happy about that. Mental, as much as physical, errors in the field have bit us a little this year. We are talking about focus at this point.”
The offense seems to be peaking at the right time. They’ll need it this week against a much better pitching staff that Jefferson will bring to the table. According to Ainslie, the Dragons (much like Morgan) will have four key pitchers they use. The hardest thrower (84-88 mph) will be UGA signee Lane Watkins. He also plays third base and is being recruited by the Dogs as a hitter. The rest of the staff is similar to the Bulldog staff. He described their pitching corps as very solid, but not overpowering from a velocity standpoint.
Ainslie was asked who stood out in the 12-2 win Friday. He said, “Everybody got a base hit except one, and we hit the ball hard. You never have to worry about Ethan. He’s just a hitter that likes to be in the toughest situations. That’s where he shines the best. Jaron, Jacob, Brandyn, and Blake have to hit for us to do well. Right now they have a lot more confidence. We need those four to be on this week and beyond along with Ethan and Hunter. We need six or seven guys in the lineup to be hot. At this point you can’t go more than two innings without being productive at the plate against teams that know how to score and hit. Productivity doesn’t always mean getting hits or hitting homers. It might as little as getting a ground ball to second to score a guy from third.” You can hear the phrase ‘Be a hard out’ from this staff often.
“We’re ready. The players are physical rested and mentally ready. This is an experienced team, and so is Jefferson. When you have the number one and number two teams in AAA playing, it’s going to be a battle. It just so happens we’re in the same region and playing for a Region Championship, so it’s big. We’re looking forward to a great week and what’s in front of us,” said Ainslie.