By R. Alan Richardson
The Diamond Lady Dogs are headed to the AAA State Softball Championships after a fourth place finish in the 8-AAA Region Tournament last week. And, they certainly have their work cut out for them facing the number one team in AAA, Ringgold. Coach Jason McBay said, “They are good. You don’t go 10-0 in that region (6-AAA) for no reason. It all starts with their solid defense. They don’t give you very much. You have to earn it. They have solid hitting in spots 1-9 with six or seven homerun threats. Their pitcher, Kaylee Phillips isn’t overpowering, but knows how to pitch. She changes speeds well and uses her defense. Ringgold is a very formidable opponent.”
Morgan gained the right to make the State Tournament with a series win over East Jackson before falling to Jackson County and Jefferson in the 8-AAA Region Tournament. According to McBay, the girls played one of their better games against the rival Panthers in the first round. “We scored four in the top of the first off Jackson County’s starter (and Georgia Tech commit) Sarah Beth Allen, but she hit another level from the second through sixth innings. We struggled to put it in play, but had a chance in the top of the seventh with the go ahead run on third but couldn’t get her in. Jackson just chipped away and got us in the bottom of the seventh. The energy and aggressiveness of our team was awesome. We had them but just let it slip away. Overall, we just all scrapped and got after it in game one vs. Jackson. I felt like Bailey Nix got after it and pitched one of her best games all year.” commented McBay. The final was 5-4 in a nail biter.
After the loss to Jackson County, MOCO had to move into the loser’s bracket and face off with the Jefferson Lady Dragons. They fell in that one 8-3. “Something about that team just brings out the worst in us. We struggled to adjust at the plate. They do a great job of putting the ball in play and capitalizing on your mistakes and we made way too many to win.”
The exit leaves the Lady Dogs a daunting task against Ringgold on the road. That series is scheduled to start Oct. 9 at 3:00 on the road. The double header will be followed up on Thursday with the “if” game at 3:00 as well should it be necessary.
McBay continued, “I like our position because naturally being the #1 in the state the pressure is on them. Being in the underdog role is something our team has and will embrace. We found the formula against Jackson County but didn’t sustain it for seven innings. I feel like if we play loose and stick together we have a shot. I know that we have great players too and this will be a great time to prove it.”
Ringgold is sporting a gaudy 21-3 record and come in as highly favored, but they’ll have to earn it against a battle-tested Morgan County. The Dogs will not hand over the “W” easily. “We have to get outs – all of them. We need 42 outs and gotta make them all count. So it all starts there. Defensively we need to be greedy and get after it. In the circle, we have to throw strikes, change speeds, and stay down in the zone. Offensively, we need to get on base and then throw the kitchen sink at them. I don’t feel like this team needs a “win one for the Gipper” type of speech. These six seniors remember Columbus and that desire to return should be a united force that can overcome the adversity along the way and fight with everything we have. In the playoffs, the resilient team is the one that wins. We have to have short memories and recover quickly if and when things get sideways. Their lineup reminds me of Jackson County last year so you have to treat each and every at bat (on defense) as its own separate little battle. I feel like we can score runs. If we can put up seven or eight a game we have a chance. As far as weaknesses, they don’t have many, but I’ve gotten some great scouting reports on them so we will see what we can do,” the head coach said.
Whatever the case, it’s not going to be easy for any of the teams in the first round from Regions 6-AAA and 8-AAA. All of the teams have their work cut out for them. McBay talked about the matchups, “It’s like Columbus in the first round. I personally feel that the State Champion will come from our two Regions. It’s been like that since 2014 with Calhoun winning it three times, East Jackson in 2016, and last year Franklin County. The matchups will be Sonoraville at Jefferson, Jackson County at Calhoun, Coahulla Creek at Franklin, and us at Ringgold.” On the other hand, the at-large bid, Haralson County, may have an easier road to Columbus. They get Southeast Bulloch in the first round and would then play the winner of Pace Academy and Cherokee Bluff in the second round. “I think Haralson will be in Columbus. It’s funny how it works out sometimes but you gotta play every game to win.”
McBay was asked about his team. He left us with these words, “Overall, I’m proud of my team. In some people’s eyes we’ve already overachieved but I’m not buying that and I don’t think they are either. We are one of 32 teams that get play into October and we are proud of that but I couldn’t think of a better group of players or coaches to go battle Ringgold than this group. They have a team unity and oneness that has carried us this far. Our theme all year has been Power of 3 (Eccl 4:12). This will be the perfect test to prove the power of a three stranded to rope. We have to lean on each other and hold onto the rope no matter the way things look. Having faith in God, ourselves, and each other we can accomplish anything. Our plan is to stay loose, enjoy every moment, and let go of the results. Hopefully, we give you a great story to write with blank pages… the pen is our hands…”