By R. Alan Richardson
Morgan’s softball season ended against a “buzz saw”, as Coach Jason McBay noted. Number one Ringgold proved to be everything and more they were touted to be…and then some. The Lady Dogs went up against a powerhouse that proved in all phases of the game to simply be a little better than the hometown girls. The two-of-three series ended on day one after the Lady Tigers took a 12-0 win in game one and shut out the Dogs again in game two 7-0. It was a tough ending to another successful season in the program’s history.
We sat down with McBay to get his take on the series, his team, the season, and much more. Here’s how the question and answer session went.
Q: You said it started with Ringgold’s defense. Obviously, they lived up to it along with good pitching. What’s your take one that?
A: Usually when we scout a team, we look for a weakness that we can exploit. I’m not sure Ringgold has one. There are no gimmies with them. Nothing fell in the outfield, balls hit in the holes in the infield were quickly scooped up. Just a very, very sound defensive team. Kaylee Phillips their pitcher isn’t overpowering but she works fast, throws strikes, and knows those seven behind her and one in front of her have her back. I think the first play of the series was a diving catch in left field by one of the Gainers and that kind of set the tone for the day.
Q: Did we have an off day at the plate or was Ringgold that good?
A: Really to me, we made good adjustments from at bat to at bat while they were making good adjustments at the plate from pitch to pitch. We didn’t hit badly just could never really find any holes in their defense. It was almost like if you didn’t hit a short line drive thru the infield or a bomb – it wasn’t falling. I think on the day we only struck out twice.
Q: How was our pitching in the series? Were they that good at the plate?
A: We had a good scouting report on their hitters. Unfortunately it was pretty accurate – get the 8 & 9 hitters out because 1 – 7 can all swing it. We used all three of our pitchers in the series- Bailey Nix, Sarah Ellen Mercer, and Emma Garner. I was proud of all three of them – they fought hard, threw strikes and competed to the best of their ability. It seemed Ringgold had an answer for everything we threw at them. You almost couldn’t go back to a pitch twice in the same at bat. They really did a great job of hitting the ball where it is pitched. It’s crazy but we toyed with the idea of intentionally walking 1-5 every time through but likely 6 & 7 would have made us pay.
Q: Are they better than our region’s top teams? Can Ringgold win it all?
A: After playing them, I really feel it will Be Ringgold or Franklin that wins it all. Someone will have to match Ringgold offensively to beat them. My prediction, for what it’s worth:
2) Franklin County
In my 8 years as a head coach the best pitcher I have ever seen is Kelly Barnhill (two years in a row at Pope, Gatorade player of the year, Florida standout). The best hitting team in 8 years = Ringgold.
The best team defense in 8 years = Ringgold. We ran into a buzzsaw!
Q: What were some of the season successes and where do you feel the program is right now?
A: I’m really happy with the state of our program right now. I feel that this team got better as the season progressed, came together as a unit, and really had a lot of fun along the way this season. We talked a lot about being “Mission-driven” over “goal-oriented” and I believe these girls and these seniors accomplished what they set out to do this season. We didn’t make Columbus but this bunch finds their identity in more than just softball and I’m proud of that. All 15 of our players are and will continue to be great people.
Q: What was your record and did you reach any milestones this season?
A: Record 17-15. Milestones – Hit 13 HRs as a team. (Most in my 4 years); Zoey Brown & Avery Kinnett had phenomenal years offensively both hitting over .400 for the year.
Q: How badly will this team, and you, miss the six seniors that will be lost to graduation?
A: Seniors – What more can I say? Bailey, Maeson, Sara, Mack, Hannah, And Zoey are all very special to me and my family. They kept me/us laughing and guessing for 4 straight years. I have absolutely loved watching them grow into the beautiful young ladies they are today. We – as coaches and underclassmen – are very thankful for the memories and laughter and all that this class has given our program!
Q: What were some of your biggest wins and toughest losses?
A: Biggest wins – Obviously the two wins against East Jackson put us into the state playoffs, but I felt like the two games against Hart County were great games where we played our absolute best. I also feel like the other AAA teams that we beat in our tournament were huge for confidence for our team. Rutland, Jackson, Westminster, And Cherokee Bluff were all playoff teams in AAA and we proved that playing in one of the toughest regions in AAA prepares you for the playoffs. Unfortunately, we need to work harder to beat the elite teams of AAA – Franklin’s, Jefferson’s, Calhoun’s, Ringgold’s, etc.
Toughest losses? The two games that we fought and fought and fought but just came up short were the last home game vs Franklin that we lost 5-3 and the first game in Region Tourney vs Jackson Co when they came back to beat us 5-4. We pushed our team to the brink in those games but fell just short.
Q: You have some solid players returning. Can next year’s squad be better than this year? Why or why not?
A: I think next year’s squad can be pretty special if they get after it and work hard. We will need new leaders to step up but they’ve got it in them. We will have some big holes to fill but you look at this year’s team. They overcame losing a lot last year to complete a winning season and state playoff appearance. I feel like our returning pitchers are already working hard to step up next year. We will get a lot of innings from Sophomore Emma Garner And Junior Sarah Ellen Mercer. Others that could step up and help us in the circle will be Peyten Spain, Leah Spain, and Kendall Smith. think if our new leaders step up and we are a player-led team with lots of accountability- the sky’s the limit
Q: Who are your key returning players and possible new faces for 2020?
A: Key Returns – Avery Kinnett(SS), Parker Spain(2b), Peyten Spain(C/OF/P) Emma Garner(P/3b), Brianna Lanford(1b), Emma Garrison (1b/OF/C), Mercer (P)
Possible New Faces – We have 8 eighth graders moving up, so I’m excited about seeing them compete and get after it. Three out of that class that will have an immediate impact are Anna Kate Hill (Outfield), Leah Spain (Outfield/Pitcher), And Ryan Henderson (1b)
Q: Would you like to add anything or thank anyone for this season’s success?
A: I can’t say thank you enough to all of our parents and especially our Booster Club Officers – Shane Seabolt, Kristin Steele, Brad Harper, Weylin Torbush, Katie Ray, and Kristy Thrasher for all of their support for our program this year. It truly was one of the most enjoyable years to coach. Special shoutout to my beautiful wife Traci who reminds me constantly that coaching is a calling and not a job. She sacrifices so much for me to do what I love!!! Go Dogs! #Powerof3