By R. Alan Richardson
The Lady Diamond Dogs stamped their ticket to the State Softball Tournament this past weekend by defeating the East Jackson Lady Eagles in two straight games. The best of three series was played in Madison with the number four MCHS girls hosting East Jackson. Coach Jason McBay’s squad took the contests by scores of 7-4 in the opener and 10-5 in the afternoon portion of a double-header. With the two wins, MOCO will now move into the Final Four of the 8-AAA Region Tournament and played number one seeded Jackson County on Tuesday on their home turf. This will be another two-out-of-three games series with the winner to face off with either Franklin County or Jefferson. Outcomes of those games were unknown at press time, and will be reported next week.
Morgan disposed of the number five seeded Eagles in two games, but those wins didn’t come easy. Senior pitcher Bailey Nix pitched two complete games in 90 degree heat and got both wins for the Dogs. Parker Spain was the offensive catalyst coming through with big hits in both contests.
After East Jackson went quietly in the first inning, Spain went to work in her first at-bat with a line drive solo homer to left field with two outs. East Jackson, who fought hard all afternoon, tied things up with a run in the second after a marginal call on a stolen base at second. Catcher Maeson Tanner promptly threw out the next would-be stealer of the inning with a strong throw that kept the Eagles from running on her the remainder of the day. Nix ended the rally with her third strikeout of the game.
The visitors took a 2-1 lead in the top of the third inning on two critical Morgan errors. However, in that same inning, the Dogs came up big at the plate to take the wind out of the Lady Eagles’ sails when they sent eight batters to the plate and scored four runs to take a commanding 5-1 edge. Emma Garner started things off with a single followed by an error that allowed Sara Peppers to reach and Garner to move up. Spain was at it again as she doubled to the left centerfield gap to drive in the first two runs. Not to be outdone, third baseman Hannah Callaway followed up Spain’s rip with one of her own that left the park in left center in a hurry. The homerun put the home team in the driver’s seat.
The Lady Dogs added runs in the fourth and fifth stanzas to run the lead out to 7-2. In the fourth, it was Peppers who beat out an infield bunt for a hit, stole second, and reached third on a wild pitch before she crossed the plate on a single off the bat of Avery Kinnett. Kinnett and Spain also played outstanding defense in the middle of the infield. In the fifth, a solo homerun by younger sister Peyton Spain in a pinch hitting role gave the Dogs their final run of the evening. A scary moment in the sixth inning had the Bulldog faithful holding their breaths. A liner up the middle hit Nix in the stomach after barely glancing off her glove. It looked serious, but the little battler shook it off and finished up the evening with no signs of slowing down. Morgan pulled off a nice 1-6-3 double play in that same inning to give Nix some help.
East Jackson wouldn’t quit. Down to their last out in the top of the seventh inning, they gave Morgan a scare. After the first two batters in the inning were retired on weak flies, the leadoff hitter in their lineup doubled down the right field line. She scored when the next batter tripled. East Jackson’s third hitter in the lineup then singled and the cleanup batter doubled to cut the lead to 7-4, but that’s how it would end. Nix toed the rubber and sat down the next hitter on strikes for her fifth K of the game.
After a 30-minute delay between games, Morgan came out a little flat. Now playing as the home team, East Jackson roared out to a 4-0 margin when the first four batters in the Lady Eagles’ lineup crossed home. After giving up four straight hits in the first inning and the four runs, Nix found her groove in the circle. She allowed only one run and five hits from that point forward.
The Lady Dogs fought back in the top of the second by pushing two runs across home. Designated hitter Peyton Spain singled to left with one out, and scored on a two RBI single by Briana Lanford. MacKenzie Torbush also scored on the hit after she had walked before Lanford. It was now 4-2 and the game was on.
The girls added on another run in the third. Parker Spain was at it again. This time she tripled with one out and scored on an error to short to get Morgan a run closer 4-3. After the Lady Eagles went up 5-3 on two hits and an error in the fourth, it was getting down to money ball. A Bulldog loss would send the game to a one game tiebreaker, and that’s not what McBay wanted. He gathered his troops in the dugout and urged them to fight. “Let’s don’t wait until the seventh inning to win this game!” The pep talk worked. Morgan went into the sixth trailing by two only to tie the game with two runs. Peyton Spain got her second single of the game and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Torbush. Pinch hitter Emma Garner came through with a huge double to score Spain. Peppers beat out a bunt single that scored Garner to give Morgan the 5-5 tie.
East Jackson came up with what appeared to be another late rally when they loaded the bases with two outs, but Nix came through again when Lanford snared a soft liner to first for the third out. Morgan then exploded for five runs in the top half of the seventh. Zoey Brown led things off with a triple to right center. She scored on Parker Spain’s single down the third base line that hit the bag. Callaway singled, but Spain was caught going home on Tanner’s grounder to third base. Torbush and Lanford got back-to-back singles to drive in two more runners and give Morgan the much-needed 10-5 lead. It was the first time the Lady Dogs had the lead. The wins catapult the Diamond Dogs into the State playoffs, but first they will play for the Region Championship in the 8-AAA Final Four.