Stamps provides spark for Diamond Dogs against Pace

Left: Morgan County sophomore Ethan Stamps slowly walks down the first base line while watching a ball sail over the fence for a two-run homer before flipping his bat. 

Right: than Stamps celebrates on the mound after striking out the side during the late stages of last week’s second playoff game against Pace Academy. 

PHOTOS: Justin Hubbard

By Justin Hubbard

justin@lakeoconeenews.us

 

Ethan Stamps knew his teammates needed a jolt.

The Morgan County baseball team hosted Pace Academy last Thursday for a doubleheader in the Sweet 16 round of the Class AAA playoffs. The Diamond Dogs uncharacteristically got shellacked in the first game, 19-4, and it appeared then that Pace might sweep them out of the tournament.

Stamps was Morgan’s starting pitcher for game two, played later that evening. He was dominant from the start, striking out several Pace batters. Morgan worked a 1-0 lead early and then, in the bottom of the fifth, Stamps crushed a two-run home run to center field.

He slowly walked out of the batter’s box while watching the ball sail out of the park. When it finally went over the fence, Stamps flipped his bat in celebration and ran the bases.

“I knew we had to come up with something big so I tried to muscle up on one,” Stamps said. “I guess I got a hold of it.”

A video of Stamp’s big homer and subsequent bat flip was immediately posted on the Lake Country Sports Facebook page. As of Tuesday morning, the video had been viewed nearly 1,500 times.

Baseball is infamous for its “unwritten rules.” It’s usually in poor taste for a hitter to flip his bat after hitting a home run. Stamps said his action wasn’t meant to rub it in the faces of the Knights – he wanted to spark his teammates.

“I was just trying to get my team fired up and get everybody going,” Stamps said.

Hunter Lane, a junior with the Diamond Dogs, was pumped up by Stamps’ gesture.

“I loved it,” Lane said. “It was amazing. That got us going.”

Morgan’s dugout came alive. For the first time all day, the positive energy was on the Diamond Dogs’ side. Jaron Ferguson hit a home run in the next inning to add onto Morgan’s advantage and wound up with two homers in the series himself.

“That bat flip, that just gets the team going, man,” Ferguson said. “He hits a bomb and bat flips and everyone in the dugout's freaking out. It gets everyone fired up, adding gasoline to a fire.”

Stamps finished out the game on the mound. He ended most of the innings with a strikeout, which was regularly followed by an exuberant fist pump and a loud “let’s go!” by Stamps. Morgan won game two, 4-1, and game three on Friday, 9-7, to advance to the Elite Eight.

In total for the series, Stamps homered three times. He led an offensive explosion, which saw Morgan score 17 runs across three games.

The prior four games for the Diamond Dogs saw them score only 14 runs total. If it weren’t for Stamps’ emotional outburst the night before – and his continued hyping up of his teammates Friday during the final game – then the series might have ended in Pace’s favor.

“He gets us fired up,” said Jacob Anderson, who pitched the third game and drove in three runs on a triple. “He gets us going. He's very valuable to our team and he's one of the best players we have.”

Stamps’ production and emotion seemed to have a residual effect on the other players. With the exception of a home run by Hunter Christian during game one, the Diamond Dogs struggled at the plate until Stamps unloaded on the bat flip homer.

Merritt Ainslie, the Diamond Dogs’ head coach, said he likes seeing Stamps lead the team at the plate and with his emotions.

“I talked to Ethan a lot this past offseason about being a leader,” Ainslie said. “During these state playoffs, he's led from a production standpoint and the guys just feed off of that. Not everybody can lead. If you can't lead, you better be able to follow and do your job. When he sets the tone like he does, it makes it easier for other guys to kind of loosen up and just play the way they're supposed to play.”

Ainslie called Stamps’ bat flip the “turning point” in the series. Senior first baseman Grant Cofer, who homered in game three, agreed.

“The bat flip started it all,” Cofer said. “He brings an edge and craziness and rowdiness that no one else on the team can. I love it. He helps us all out. When we're down, he picks us up. He brings everyone together. He's a good team player.”

Many players might have shied away from flipping their bat or letting their emotions shine through after striking out an opposing batter. They wouldn’t want to be inserted into high-pressure situations that will make or break a game or a season.

Ainslie said Stamps doesn’t fit into that category.

“He's just a different animal,” Ainslie said. “He's got the 'it' factor and loves the big time, loves the spotlight. ... You don't find many high school kids that wants the ball in his hand, wants the bat in his hand.”

Morgan hosts Pike County on Wednesday for a doubleheader in the third round of the state tournament. The first of the two games will begin at 4:30 p.m. Game three, if necessary, will be played Thursday at 5 p.m.

After Stamps flipped his bat against Pace, the rest of the Diamond Dogs were more boisterous than usual. They all loudly cheered on each other and urged their fans to get on their feet and cheer, too.

It started with Stamps, who said the same passion with which the Diamond Dogs fought back after getting blown out in last week’s first game could propel them deeper into the postseason.

“We were all trying to come back from the first game,” he said. “We were all trying to pick each other up. Every time we stay loud, we win. It keeps working so we keep doing it.”

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