Morgan softball won its season opener Monday night in walk-off fashion
Maeson Tanner’s 16th birthday had an electric conclusion.
Tanner is a junior with the Morgan County softball team. This past Monday night, she and the rest of the Lady Dogs opened up the season with a 6-5 win over Commerce High School.
Morgan started the bottom of the seventh inning down two runs after several errors helped Commerce erase a three-run deficit to take the late edge. The game ended with Tanner safely stealing home plate.
“Honestly, I thought I was out,” Tanner said. “I was really shocked at that point. It was really exciting for me, knowing that I couldn't do hitting but I stepped up and came back to run and had a success for the team.”
What Tanner meant by she “couldn’t do hitting” was a reference to her unsuccessful night at the plate. She was hitless entering the final frame.
That’s when Tanner spoke up and asked for McBay to let Nicole Edwards hit in her place. Edwards was hit by a pitch and McBay sent Tanner back out to run the bases. She stole second and was advanced to third.
With Zoey Brown at the plate and one away, McBay called for a suicide squeeze bunt attempt by Brown, which also meant Tanner was running down the third base line toward home.
The pitch was too far outside and Brown missed the bunt attempt. Tanner said it was nothing Brown did wrong and called it a “crazy” pitch on which to bunt. Tanner hypothesized that Commerce coach Melissa Mullis guessed McBay’s call given Brown’s expert bunting ability and Tanner’s speed.
Tanner was caught in a brief rundown about halfway between third base and home. She wiggled out of the jam and scored the game-winner.
“Once I saw that [Brown] missed it, I didn't just give up,” Tanner said. “I went back and then went back again and just kept going back and forth until I got there.”
Tanner’s play was thrilling, but other events in the seventh frame were equally important.
McKenna Camp began the inning in place of starter Mackenzie Torbush and drew a walk (Torbush went back in to run). Dakota Cepuran, who had a 3-for-3 night, started her senior year with a bang by smacking a ball over the left field fence.
A Kona Ice shaved ice truck was parked behind center field during the game. Cepuran said she joked with Sarah Ellen Mercer in the dugout that she would find a way to hit a ball near the truck.
But Cepuran was not sure she would get that fateful at-bat because of McBay tinkering with the lineup. He kept her in and she delivered.
“Coach McBay was pulling people who haven't started and telling them to go warm up, so I was joking around and asking him if I was going to hit,” Cepuran said. “He looked at me like I was crazy and said, 'Of course you are.' Me and Sarah Ellen were talking and messing around and I told her I was going to hit it in the Kona truck out there. It didn't quite make it over there but it went over the fence. It felt pretty good.”
After Cepuran tied the game, Edwards dug in and drew the hit by pitch, extending the rally and allowing the Lady Dogs to win.
McBay heaped praise on Camp and Edwards for coming off the bench with little notice to help spark the comeback.
“I don't care which of the 16, whose number I call, I have faith that any of them can get it done,” McBay said. “And McKenna and Nic did that. They sat there for six and a half innings and then, 'Hey, you're about to hit, go make it happen,' and they did. And that's huge.”
Bailey Nix pitched a complete game with only one earned run allowed. Despite the Lady Tigers’ efforts and the fact they got several runners on base, Nix rarely folded, helping keep the Lady Dogs afloat.
McBay said he was impressed by the way Nix kept her composure. He said she and Mercer figure to be the team’s primary starting pitchers throughout the season.
“Both of them had really good summers,” McBay said. “Sarah Ellen's put her work in and she deserves every opportunity. If we could have 1A and 1B that would be fine by me. I think Bailey did a lot [Monday] to kind of separate herself. Without her, we don't have a chance [Monday]. I think she gave up one earned run and we gave them the rest. She kept us in it. She's been a great addition for us.”
Nix’s one run looked great on the stat sheet. Unfortunately for the Lady Dogs, they surrendered more than that because of several errors.
The count of total errors varied between seven and nine across the team.
Whatever the total, McBay wasn’t happy with it.
“They've got to fight against making excuses like, 'Oh, we didn't play good defense because we were inside for four days last week (because of rain),' or, 'Oh, we haven't had a lot of ground balls,'" McBay said. "They've taken enough ground balls in their life that we should be better than nine errors or whatever we made.”
The players were disappointed in their errors, too. Shortstop Alissa Webb chalked up her own mistakes to opening-night nerves.
That seemed to be the general consensus among players.
“I'm confident that was a one-time deal,” Tanner said. “It was a home opener and everybody was here and we were nervous. I think, in the end, we're going to be really successful.”
Monday was a roller coaster-type game for the Lady Dogs. That description was used all summer by McBay and his players when discussing the 2017 season, which saw Morgan fall in the Sweet 16 round of the state playoffs.
Despite the inconsistent nature of Monday’s opener, the Lady Dogs expect to put those tendencies behind.
“We want to win the region and we definitely want to make it back to the state playoffs,” Webb said. “I think this team is better than what we had last year. We're trying not to be a roller coaster team like we were last year and I don't think we're gonna be.”
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