By R. Alan Richardson
After a series in which the Dogs didn’t exactly play their best baseball against Jefferson, Morgan County will now face off with Redan High School in the first round of State Baseball Tournament action. The Raiders come to Madison for a best-of-three series starting Wed. April 24 in a doubleheader at 5:00 followed by an “if” game on Thursday at 6:00 should the two teams split Wednesday. All games will be played at Tracy Brown field.
Redan sports the number one scoring offense in the state in AAA with 290 runs and currently ranked 12th on MaxPreps website as the number three seed from 5-AAA behind Pace Academy and Lovett. Morgan is currently holding down the number seven spot and comes in as the number two seed from 8-AAA after the series loss to Jefferson.
The Dogs came up short to the Dragons this past week with losses of 5-3, 6-1, and 7-3 in three games that determined the 8-AAA regular season Region Championship. Coach Merritt Ainslie summarized the series with these comments, “They capitalized on our mistakes more than we did on theirs. We made some mental errors on the base paths, and continued our defensive deficiencies, and just didn’t hit the ball like we are capable of. Some of it was their pitching, and they did a good job. They are a Championship type program that knows how to win. I thought we were pretty evenly matched.”
The week offered up some of the most perfect baseball weather you could ask for. Wednesday’s first game was one the Dogs probably feel like they let get away. Morgan trailed 1-0 after two innings of play after Jefferson scored an unearned run off three Bulldog errors, but MOCO stormed back in the bottom of the third on a two-run blast to right field off the bat of Jaron Ferguson that drove in Seth Robertson who reached on a hustle play head-first dive into first base. Hunter Lane followed that up by reaching on an error and later scored on a single up the middle by Brandyn Batchelor to give the Dogs a 3-1 advantage.
Jacob Anderson pitched a whale of a game before giving way to the bullpen in the sixth inning with a high pitch count. Jefferson homered with a man on base to tie the game at 3-3 during the stanza. The seventh saw the Dogs commit three more errors in the seventh that allowed two more Dragons to score for the final of 5-3. This put the Dogs in must-win situation in Thursday’s doubleheader at Jefferson.
The Dogs again felt the momentum swing their way early in the opener. Robertson reached on a walk in the second inning and used his speed to steal second before an error allowed him to reach third. Lane’s sacrifice fly drove in the go-ahead run. However, it was all Dragons after that offensively. They scored two in the third, one more in the fourth, and put the dagger in with three more in the fifth to seal the Title. The Dogs certainly didn’t help themselves in this one either with miscues in the field and on the base paths again. The final game of the series ended 7-3.
Ainslie said, “Jefferson is a team in my mind that was very sound and would not beat themselves and they proved that. Most of our mistakes were from being lazy with our feet, and I don’t like to use that word. We need to fix that and be more mentally tough on every single pitch whether it’s in the field or at the plate. They are a championship team (defending AAAA State Champs 2018) that will be hard for anyone to beat in the playoffs because they are well-coached as a team. Individual talent is one thing, but you have to play your best as a team on that day, that game, that series to be successful.”
Redan comes in with one of the most athletic and potent offensive teams in the state according to Ainslie. He commented, “They are very, very athletic and fast. I’ve seen some video of their hitting. They have some pretty baseball swings that are nice, short, and compact swings. They rely on their natural ability and will be tough. On the hoof they look really special having three players drafted last year. I thought they were maybe the most talented team in AAA last year, but got beat in the first round. We can definitely beat them, but they will put around eight college prospects on the field this week. They have signees going to Georgia, New Mexico, Moorehouse and everywhere in between. If we play like we are capable, we have a great chance of winning the series. Their ace runs it up there in the low 90’s with a good curve. Every team at this point is going to be a pretty good time. Our focus this week will be to make the routine plays, not making our pitchers get five outs in an inning and get off the field, keep our pitch counts low and execute small ball situations when dictated. We will have to hit the ball and get some base hits with runners in scoring position, and make our bunts or hit and runs count in critical situations.” The Raiders come in at 19-4 overall and 8-4 in Region 5-AAA play.