Morgan State softball team loses opening MEAC game, controversial out hangs over coach’s head
By Alex Ederson, Co-Sports Editor with SGJC Student News Network
The #1 Morgan State Lady Bears Softball team kicked off MEAC Tournament play with a 2-1 loss to the #5 Coppin State Lady Eagles on May 10 at Norfolk State University Softball Field. This matchup was a cross-town rivalry between Morgan and Coppin and the energy in the game matched that of a championship game at times.
It’s a wrap from Norfolk, Va. where the top-seeded @MorganStateSB🐻🥎 dropped its opener to No. 5 @Coppin_Softball🦅 2️⃣-1️⃣.@MEACSports | @UnderArmour#GoBears🔷🔶— Morgan State Bears (@MorganStBears) May 10, 2023
The Lady Eagles defeated the Howard University Lady Bison, 6-4 in the opening game of the MEAC tournament and were feeling confident headed into their matchup against Morgan. Coppin’s dugout brought the energy from the opening pitch to the last out. They could be heard taunting Lady Bears starting pitcher, junior Anaya Hunte the entire game as well as cheering on their teammates at every at bat. Their electric chants filled the air at every at bat and Morgan seemed unable to match the energy brought by their cross town rivals.
The Lead Up
The Lady Bears came into the MEAC Tournament having clinched their third straight regular season MEAC title and were hoping to seal their second MEAC Tournament Championship.
The expectation for the Lady Bears headed into this game was to play with “fundamentals” and practice with those expectations.
Coach Larry Hineline said, “We practice and practice fundamentals. Being at the right place at the right time, knowing where the ball should be thrown, How to … properly do the basic things like rundowns and bunts and you know, coverages and so forth… we preach that if we take care of those fundamental things, and, you know, play defense and pitch we're going to be in good shape.”
Morgan named a mostly unchanged batting order from their last game against University of Maryland Eastern Shore, the only changes being Hunte reintroduced as the ace and freshman infielder Gianna Ettore being dropped to bring Hunte into the batting order.
Morgan Batting Order
1- Center Fielder, Asia Thomas
2- Second Base, Mia Ewell
3- First Base, Victoria Fletcher
4- Pitcher, Anaya Hunte
5- Designated Hitter, Mellisa Paz
6- Catcher, Allison Keener*
7- Left Fielder, Mia Wilkins*
8- Shortstop, Ky’Anah Lake*
9- Right Fielder, Nia Willis*
- Tuzunski played Third Base
A Punch In The Mouth
Coach Hineline and the Lady Bears know that you can have whatever kind of game plan you want but everything changes when you get punched in the mouth one time. The game started well enough for the Lady Bears but they were unable to get their bats hot in the low scoring affair.
Morgan State fans will remember last year's opening game very fondly. The Lady Bears opened up their tournament play with a bang, beating North Carolina Central University 28-0 in five innings. The NCCU Softball team was in the stands for Morgan’s game after winning their game earlier against UMES, 2-1. The NCCU team felt a sense of joy watching Morgan falter against Coppin State and certainly let the Lady Bears know how they felt every time a call or play went against them, jeering and celebrating at each misfire from Morgan.
The game was tightly contested heading into the top of the fourth inning. Both teams pitchers were pitching admirably; Coppin State junior Vanessa Carrizosa had 3 “K’s” and Hunte had 4. The game at the time was considered in the balance and up came Lady Eagles redshirt senior Brissa Alvarado. She batted in the fourth position which is recognized as the “clean up spot” or the most powerful hitter on a team traditionally. She had popped a ball out to right field in the top of the first but was still finding her footing. She attacked the ball in her next at bat, launching it over the head of a jumping Thomas and out the park.
From that moment in the game, the Lady Bears finally looked vulnerable. However, Morgan kept fighting and found themselves rallying late in the fifth inning. Keener started the inning off with a well worked at bat before singling down the third base line. Coach Hineline brought in junior Chandler Mitchell to “pinch run” for Keener and her speed was put on display right away.
Wilkins had the next at bat and was instructed to “sacrifice bunt” in order to advance Mitchell. Wilkins bunted and advanced Mitchell to third base, allowing for the Lady Bears to score on the next at bat through a deep sacrifice flyout from senior pinch hitter Madison Nunez.
Nunez transferred from the University of North Alabama this past year and was not apart of the MEAC Championship winning team in 2021, or the team that dominated NCCU in 2022 so this tournament experience was new to her.
Nunez said, “I honestly didn't really know what to expect. … But we did play really well today and I think it just wasn't our day, but we'll come back tomorrow and we'll end up fighting back and winning the championship.”
“Be Where Our Feet Are”
The rally was short lived by Morgan as freshman outfielder Nia Lewis got a bit overzealous in her base running and was tagged out at second after a Thomas single, ending the inning. The momentum seemed to be heading in Morgan’s favor with every single at bat but a controversial call by one of the umpires swung the tide again in Coppin’s favor. Ewell led off the Lady Bears to start the bottom of the sixth inning and she worked a good at bat, falling behind in the count before bunting for what everyone thought was a double that she sold out for. The home plate umpire made a controversial call, saying Ewell stepped outside the batter's box when running from home to first due to a footprint called out to him by Coppin freshman catcher Dillon Morgan. This was one of those calls that changed the entire outcome of the game according to Coach Hineline.
“He pointed to a footprint inside the box and it must have been 400 footprints all around there…So you know it is what it is. He was looking to make the call, I think he thought he saw something…You gotta eat that one and move on. That was a game changer. We get her on second base with nobody out. We get the run. That we get three outs and we go home.”
This caused the Lady Bears to unravel mentally and Coppin took advantage of that, striking out Ewell and retiring the next two Morgan batters in order. Coppin then came out swinging to start the seventh. Alvarado was back up to hit again after homering at her last at-bat and she fully got into the head of Hunte. She worked a “full count”, getting three balls and two strikes, against Hunte before Hunte finally collected her final K of the evening. The next at-bat proved to be the dagger as freshman utility Avianna Peterson worked another full count against Hunte before homering off of her.
The Lady Bears were unable to answer as they grounded out three straight times to end the game. Morgan will have a lot to prove to their doubters as they play game one of the MEAC losers bracket. If they lose then their magnificent season will come to an end.
Nunez said, “I think our biggest struggle will be taking it one step at a time and not thinking about the long journey that we have to make to the championship…Taking each pitch one at a time and just focusing, like be where our feet are. It's … a saying that we use, just like focusing not making (the moment) bigger than it is.”
Morgan will open loser’s bracket play against UMES at 12 PM on May 11, the team which Coach Hineline became Morgan’s all-time winningest coach against.