Morgan State Bears knocked out of MEAC Tournament by Eastern Shore Hawks
By Alex Ederson, Co-Sports Editor with SGJC Student News Network
Morgan lost their opening game of MEAC Tournament play, 2-1 to #5 Coppin State on May 10 and were looking to get back to the MEAC Conference Championship game, a game that they have played in for each of the past two seasons. The Lady Bears came into the game as heavy favorites; the last time the Lady Bears played UMES, they dominated them 17-0 in Coach Hineline’s 162 win as Morgan's head softball coach.
Two days prior on May 9, the MEAC hosted their Softball Awards night. Three Morgan State players made an All-MEAC team.
First Team All-MEAC
- Junior pitcher Anaya Hunte, consecutive MEAC Pitcher of the Year awards
- Senior designated hitter Melissa Paz
Second Team All-MEAC
- Senior infielder Victoria Fletcher, MEAC Player of the Year
Third Team All-MEAC
- Senior pitcher Victoria Fletcher
- Freshman outfielder Nia Lewis
Coach Hineline made three changes to the batting order coming into today’s game. Fletcher started in place of Hunte, with freshman infielder Gianna Ettore and senior catcher Madison Nunez being reintroduced to the order.
Morgan Batting Order
1- Center Fielder, Asia Thomas
2- Second Base, Mia Ewell
3- Pitcher, Victoria Fletcher
4- Designated Hitter, Mellisa Paz
5- Catcher, Madison Nunez
6- First Base, Gianna Ettore
7- Left Fielder, Mia Wilkins*
8- Shortstop, Ky’Anah Lake*
9- Right Fielder, Nia Willis*
- Tuzunski played Third Base
The Lady Bears had a much better start to the game, unlike their previous MEAC Tournament game. The team’s bats started hot and seemed like a vintage Morgan softball performance.
Senior outfielder Asia Thomas flew out deep to center field as the leadoff hitter, picking up UMES’ first out. Junior infielder Ewell singled on her first at-bat, before being “picked off” at second in an attempt to steal. Fletcher was walked on the next at-bat before Paz also picked up a single in her first at-bat. Nunez was up next and Morgan seemed to be on the verge of a first-inning rally. Nunez was subsequently walked, leaving the bases loaded for Ettore.
The freshman walked up confidently but knew she had to put the ball in play for the rally to happen. She struck out swinging, giving UMES junior pitcher Ameenah Ballenger her first strikeout of the evening and leaving three Morgan runners on base.
The game slowed down until the top of the third inning and this is when we saw UMES wake up. Fletcher walked UMES junior first base Ryan Merriwether, before junior outfielder Kiyaira Hicks advanced Merriwether through a sacrifice fly. UMES’ next batter flew out before freshman outfielder Jaycee Holt hit a double, allowing Merriwether to score the first run of the game.
Morgan answered quickly, unlike their last game. To start the bottom of the third, Thomas flew out again, but Ewell hit a single immediately after to get a runner on base. Fletcher came up next and worked a seven-pitch at-bat before doubling deep to center field, off the head of Ballenger, and driving in Ewell.
The medical team came out to check on Ballenger, and she was deemed okay to continue but the damage had already been done. Fletcher added to her league-leading 42 RBI’s but the inning was not over.
Coach Hineline brought in senior outfielder Chandler Mitchell to pinch run for Fletcher and Paz came up next to drive in the run on a deep sacrifice fly to give Morgan a 2-1 advantage in the bottom of the third. Nunez flew out, ending the inning for Morgan but putting them in a good spot to maintain the lead. What happened next, no one could have predicted.
Junior catcher Kelsie Ekstrom hit a ball to center field that would be considered a routine flyout but Thomas was unable to corral the ball leading Ekstrom to reach second base. Ballenger subsequently doubled and drove Ekstrom in after a wild throw by Wilkins. The Lady Bears were certainly rattled and more errors were on the cards.
Sophomore middle infielder McKenzie Abiley bunted on the next at-bat, putting runners on the corners at first and third. Two at-bats later and Morgan’s fortunes turned for the worse as Merriwether reached first on a fielding error by Ewell before reaching second after a wild throw by Ewell.
Abiley and Ballenger scored on the throw. UMES continued feasting on an inning in which Morgan had eight errors. UMES drove in nine runs during the inning and put the idea of a run-rule cancellation on the cards.
Morgan fought back valiantly, bringing in junior pitcher Emily Raubach for Fletcher to try and get back into the game, before turning to Hunte to see the game out.
UMES scored once more in the top of the fifth off of an error by Wilkins, leading to her being pulled in favor of freshman outfielder Cassie White. With UMES up 11-2, the game was ultimately out of reach.
The Lady Bears would score five more through RBI singles from Fletcher and Paz in the bottom of the fifth; in the sixth, RBIs from Ewell and senior outfielder Deborah Hamilton plus a homer from Lake would put an end to the scoring for the game.
The Lady Bears had hefty expectations coming into the tournament and were unfortunately unable to meet them. For seniors Paz, Hamilton, Thomas, Fletcher, and Nunez, this was their final opportunity to put their name in the MEAC history book but for the others, this was a lesson that they will be sure to repay next season.