Morgan's bats fall silent as Diamond Dogs lose third-straight game

After reaching first base via a walk, Diamond Dogs junior Jaron Ferguson slides safely back to first base following a pickoff attempt by the Wolverines’ pitcher.

PHOTO: Justin Hubbard

By Justin Hubbard

justin@lakeoconeenews.us

 

Morgan County’s baseball coaches were so upset about the Diamond Dogs’ offensive performance this past Monday that they didn’t let the rain hamper their postgame huddle.

After losing 1-0 at Prince Avenue Christian School, Morgan’s players gathered in the right field grass where their coaches spoke to them for several minutes following the last out. Rain started falling and the coaches directed them back to the dugout, where they continued their talk for another several minutes.

The coaches were serious about getting through to the players regarding their approaches at the plate. Monday’s loss extended the Diamond Dogs’ skid to three games. The worst part about it was, with the exception of a walk by Jaron Ferguson, who eventually moved over to third base, they barely posed a threat to PACS.

“Right now, we're guessing on a lot of things,” Morgan head coach Merritt Ainslie said. “[The coaches are] trying to take some decisions away from the guys and have a very aggressive approach toward fastballs. … A pitcher's bread and butter is just fastball. You're always gonna see, at the very least, one, 99 percent of the time. Most high school hitters can't hit off-speed very well, so why swing at them? … Go ahead and get that fastball at whatever time and have enough confidence that, if he throws an off-speed pitch early in the count for a strike, no big deal. Eventually, he's gonna throw you a fastball. We've got to maximize those opportunities and hit those.”

There were a lot of strikeouts and groundouts induced by the Wolverines’ pitcher. Ainslie said the PACS pitcher, who went the distance, “carved us up, no doubt.”

Even still, Ainslie said his players needed to be tougher during their plate appearances.

After opening the season 4-1, the Diamond Dogs were down to 4-4 as of Tuesday. Two of those recent losses came against North Oconee, including a 13-3 defeat then a 4-2 loss to star pitcher Kumar Rocker, who is expected to be selected high in this year’s Major League Baseball draft.

Morgan experienced a first-round exit in last year’s state playoffs thanks to a 2-1 series loss against Calhoun. Ainslie said he’s tried to employ an ‘iron-sharpens-iron’ approach this season by scheduling games against strong pitching staffs to try and help prevent that from happening again, which is certainly a factor in the team’s recent struggles.

“I scheduled this season (that way) because last year what got us beat was facing Calhoun and the three starters they had were just really good pitchers,” Ainslie said. “I wanted us to see really good pitching going into region and, hopefully, we could get some confidence going into region. We're not quite there yet, just because of our lackluster offensive approach, but I think we'll be OK. Our pitchers will keep us in it. We just have to scratch across a few runs.”

Speaking of Morgan’s pitchers, junior Jacob Anderson had an exceptional outing Monday against the Wolverines. Anderson tossed a complete game. He scattered a couple of hits but surrendered the decisive run after allowing a few walks. Ainslie said Anderson’s outing just needed more support from his teammates.

“He wasn’t 100 percent on his game but he was good enough to hold them to one run,” Ainslie said. “We just have to back him up.”

In addition to finding a rhythm at the plate, Ainslie said he wants his players to play with a little more of an edge.

“I'd like to see our energy pick up,” Ainslie said. “It seemed kind of dead out here [Monday]. … I would like to see a little more attitude or personality from the team. I want those older guys to take charge. ... I told them out there in the huddle, I said, 'Guys, most of you will never play organized sports again after high school. You need to really enjoy this. It's a game. Play it like a game. Have fun. We're not gonna get mad if you enjoy yourselves in the dugout as long as you're focused.'”

Morgan had a home game against PACS scheduled for Tuesday evening but rain forced its cancellation. The Diamond Dogs hosted Mary Persons this past Wednesday. On Friday, they welcome Region 8-AAA foe Jackson County for a doubleheader.

Friday’s games will be Morgan’s first of region play, which will ultimately decide the Diamond Dogs’ postseason fate. Ainslie said now is the time to put together the right pieces to get the team back on track.

“We're about to start region this week, so, it's time for us to turn it on,” he said. “We can't be cold going into region. I'm afraid, a little bit, right now we're hitting kind of a slump and we need to get out of it fast.”

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