By R. Alan Richardson
The Bulldogs got things rolling this past week after a competitive pre-season that Coach Merritt Ainslie said was one he knew would get his team ready for 8-AAA action. They took three straight wins over Monroe Area after grabbing two out of three wins over rival Hart County. The wins put Morgan at 5-1 in Region play and 7-8 overall. Jefferson is currently leading the Region at 3-0. A showdown between the two clubs will be looming if and when sports play is resumed by the GHSA and in the state. Franklin County, Hart County, and East Jackson are fighting it out for the next spots. Morgan defeated Monroe Area 11-2, 12-7, and 12-1 in that series while losing the finale to Hart 3-2 after winning the first two games 9-4 and 2-0.
Coach Merritt Ainslie said, “We have five new starters in the lineup from last season. You want to win all your games, but we weren’t too focused on pre-season wins I’ve never put a lot of stock in those pre-season wins. We’re just trying to make sure we are putting our best lineup out there.” That mentality has paid dividends for the Dogs. The past week has shown the results of a tough pre-season schedule.
Tristan Stapp and Maddox Smith have come into their own as the other two starters on the mound behind senior mainstay Ethan Stamps. Key Malone and Brendan Conway have become the team relievers out of the bullpen. Ainslie continued, “Key’s knuckleball and his ability to throw strikes has been a difference maker for us. We have confidence in both of them as our first pitchers out of the bullpen.”
Stamps and another senior Dominic Arienzo have already inked to play college baseball next season. Obviously, these two guys are the leaders of the squad, and both are really starting to heat up, according to Ainslie. He said, “Ethan is hitting very well with seven homers on the season; five in the last two series. He’s doing it all on the mound, in the field, and at the plate. Dominic has played well in the last two series for us. We need for both of them to play well. When they have their “A” game going, we are hard to beat.”
Ainslie mentioned several others that have been instrumental in the recent surge. Ethan Beals, a senior transfer from Grayson, has been battling a recent injury. “He’s a player with a high baseball IQ who has given us a lift. Seth Robertson in centerfield and Tristan in left field have tremendous speed on the base paths. We’re a different team when they get on base. Will Harper has moved to our three-hole hitter. He’s learning how to be an everyday starter behind the plate. He’s throwing out a high percentage of runners. Luke Knight, our junior right fielder is making plays out there and has been a steady and productive player on offense and defense.”
It’s a crazy time of year for all of the MCHS teams and coaches right now. All school and team activities have come to a screeching halt. Ainslie commented on the situation with these words, “We’re all just trying to figure out the coronavirus right now. For the moment, there’s no practice, school, or games. We’re playing well right now so we’ll just try to keep our heads down and keep on plowing. They’re all just working on their own right now. I just hope we don’t lose anything during this. It could be two weeks or the entire season could be cancelled. We’ll just have to wait and see.”