Nail-biter: Morgan Raiders sack New Lexington, 5-4

McCONNELSVILLE – Recent seasons have not been kind to the Morgan High baseball team, but 2013 could just be the Raiders’ year.

With a 5-4 victory over New Lexington Wednesday, the navy blue and gray improved to 9-3 in the Muskingum Valley League, putting them in unchartered territory.

“We went back and looked at some of those record books and the last time a Morgan MVL team won nine games in the league was 1996,” said fifth-year Morgan head coach Greg Gifford.

“So there’s a little determination there. We also haven’t had a winning season since ’02, so we’re fighting for that.”

At 11-6 overall, the Raiders are in prime position to finish above .500. New Lexington fell to 7-8 overall and 5-7 in the MVL.

The game was knotted up at 2-2 after four frames, but Morgan changed that with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth. Mason Edgell started the rally with a leadoff double. Austin Campbell followed with a double of his own to left-center field to plate Edgell and give Morgan the lead. For good measure, Justin Greer hit a double as well later in the inning to deep center field to bring home Campbell and make it a 4-2 game.

“Clutch hitting there,” Gifford remarked. “Mason led off that inning with a double. Austin Campbell’s had good hits all season long. He’s been hitting the ball real well.”

Campbell is Marietta College-bound in the fall and plans to play baseball for Brian Brewer’s club. He was 2-3 Wednesday with two runs scored and an RBI.

The Panthers got a run back in the top of the sixth. Logan Waite, Clay Wolfe and Dave Abrams all singled to load the bases with one out. Collin Russell then blooped a single to center to bring home Waite and make it 4-3.

Morgan right-hander Dustin Duffy did a nice job of controlling the damage and getting out of the inning with no more runs allowed.

Duffy went the distance on mound for Morgan, striking out five and walking two to earn the victory.

“It was fantastic,” Gifford said of Duffy’s performance. “He didn’t even have his good stuff tonight. He came in and talked to me in the top of the fourth inning and said he had trouble controlling his fastball. He was kind of dropping his arm down a little bit, just couldn’t get a good rhythm in but he battled through.”

Morgan answered with run of its own in the bottom half of the sixth. Kyle Earich singled to center in the inning, stole second and got to third on a wild pitch. He crossed the plate on Brady Weaver’s sacrifice fly to make it a 5-3 Raider lead.

That run proved to be pivotal as New Lex got a single from Waite in the seventh that scored Alex Bryant to make it a one-run game, but that was as close as the Panthers would get as Duffy was able to slam the door.

“It’s a gritty bunch,” said Gifford of his 2013 club. “They’ve been working really hard. I couldn’t ask for a better group of seniors. I’m really proud of them.”

Morgan jumped out to a 2-0 lead with runs in the second and third innings.

Dakota Westfall was hit by a pitch in the helmet to get the second inning started. After Duffy singled to left, Westfall went to third on a wild pitch and came all the way around to score when the catcher’s throw went into left field.

Campbell singled down the right field line to start the third inning. After moving to second on Layton Shaw’s sac bunt, Campbell sped to home plate when Stuart Crandall flied to center and the ball was dropped.

The Panthers quickly responded with a two-spot in the top of the fourth on a run scoring double by Casey Gilligan and an RBI-groundout by Abrams, tying up the score at 2-all.

Tyler Shumaker suffered the loss on the mound for New Lex, striking out three batters in six innings pitched.

Bryant was 3-3 for the Panthers while Waite was 2-4.

Campbell was the only Raider with multiple hits. Crandall, Greer, Westfall, Earich, Duffy and Edgell all added base knocks as well.

Morgan is back in action Wednesday when it plays Maysville on the road in search of double-digit MVL wins.