Slow pitch softball returns to Morgan County

Lady Dogs catcher Madison Henry makes a dramatic play to tag out a runner at home during a Region 8-AAA tournament game last fall against Franklin County. Henry, like many of the school’s fast pitch players, currently plays for the Lady Dogs’ slow pitch team. 

PHOTO: Justin Hubbard

Morgan County senior Mary Trent Chandler throws a pitch during the Lady Dogs’ senior night game against Lake Oconee Academy this past fall. Chandler currently serves as the full-time pitcher on the MCHS slow pitch team. 

PHOTO: Justin Hubbard

By Justin Hubbard

justin@lakeoconeenews.us

 

Mary Trent Chandler thought her softball career was over.

The Morgan County High School senior wrapped up a successful career with the school’s fast pitch team Oct. 18, 2017, following the Lady Dogs’ loss to Sonoraville in the Sweet 16. At that point, it appeared Chandler’s playing days were behind her. 

Later in the fall, however, Morgan head coach Jason McBay began tossing around the idea of starting up a slow pitch squad in the spring. It took him a while to get everything lined up – he didn’t know the team was officially going to happen until February – but, once he did, it meant Chandler and Katee Finney, another senior from the fast pitch team, had one more shot at playing high school softball.

Although the startup team has experienced its share of challenges, Chandler said she’s grateful she gets to lace up her cleats again.

“I think it's great,” Chandler said. “After our last game at fast pitch, I thought that was going to be my last game of softball. It's been kind of cool still being able to play and get to hang out with my friends a lot and continue to play.”

For the past couple of months, the Lady Dogs, and a few newcomers from throughout the school, have practiced and played a game similar enough to the one they play in the fall but different enough to present numerous challenges. 

Slow pitch softball is just that – slower. In addition to slower pitches, though, other different rules are in play. For example, base runners can't leave until the batter makes contact.

That change alone was difficult for Morgan at first because of the way the Lady Dogs like to work the base paths with the likes of Alissa Webb, Mackenzie Torbush and other speedy players.

It might sound strange that a group of girls who dedicated the past several years of their life to softball had a difficult time making the adjustment to slow pitch, at least initially, but that’s because most of them never played slow pitch before this year. In fact, MCHS hasn’t fielded a slow pitch team since the mid-1990s.

Junior catcher Madison Henry said the slow pitch games are far more volatile at times than fast pitch.

“It's nothing compared to fast pitch,” Henry said. “You get more ground balls and defense, but you can have one inning where there's, like, 12 walks and another inning where it's three up, three down. It's not consistent.”

Morgan has some of the best hitters in Region 8-AAA when it comes to fast pitch. McBay said his players struggled early to hit the slower pitches, though, because they threw off their timing.

The slow pitch games are different for McBay, too. He said they are “kind of boring” for the coaches because they aren’t allowed to be as involved as they are during fast pitch games.

McBay is also a little less intense during practice, the players noted.

“He's definitely more laid-back,” Henry said. “We're wearing shorts and stuff. But I feel like most of our girls still treat it the same way. They still take ground balls the same way, they still take fly balls the same way.”

Finney and Chandler have carried the pitching load so far. McBay said he wanted the two seniors to work inside the pitcher’s circle while the rest of his crew refined their skills elsewhere, which will help them in the fall.

“I think Mary Trent's done a really good job pitching for us,” McBay said. “Katee got a new job and was unable to finish the season for us but she did a good job pitching as well. My idea with that is take the seniors that are pretty much done with their fast pitch career, let them focus on pitching and then the rest of us can do defense in our normal positions.”

The Lady Dogs played three-straight Thursdays earlier this spring. On each of those days, they played three consecutive games in Watkinsville, which is where the teams in their area (which includes Franklin County, North Oconee and Oconee County) all met.

Outside of the postseason, Morgan’s fast pitch team rarely plays multiple games in one day. Chandler said the slower pace in the spring makes it easier to handle three-straight contests.

“I think, because of the pace of the game, it's slower in slow pitch, so you're not running around as much as you are in fast pitch,” Chandler said. “So, I think it's pretty equal by the time you've played three games. You're definitely tired, especially at the end of the last game because it's late.”

Because the team did not officially start up until right before the slow pitch season began, a handful of players had to miss a lot of practice time and a few games due to prior commitments.

Henry, for example, regularly missed the first game of the tripleheaders because she had hitting lessons Thursday afternoon. McBay noted that other fast pitch players also play other spring sports, while a few have jobs and couldn’t make it out because of them.

He said he plans to make the slow pitch team more structured if it is brought back next year to avoid those scheduling conflicts.

McBay himself had scheduling issues this spring because he coaches his daughters, Brynlee and Ellison, and their recreation teams. He credited his wife, Traci, with helping him shoulder his responsibilities, and lauded the players who were able to regularly attend practices and games.

Morgan went 3-6, good enough to earn a spot in the upcoming sectionals playoff, which will be held Friday at the Monroe County Recreation Department in Forsyth. The Lady Dogs will take on the likes of Thomas County Central, Charlton County and Baker County.

Should Morgan advance, it will play again next Tuesday and Wednesday in the state tournament. That will present new challenges for the Lady Dogs, who will be on spring break next week.

But as for sectionals, McBay said he thinks his players have made all the necessary adjustments and he believes the Lady Dogs have a shot at making state.

“I think the girls are excited about it,” he said. “We beat Franklin, North Oconee, we came a run within beating Oconee County, and Franklin finished first in our area. When things click and we play good defense, I think we can beat anybody.”

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