University City

Sophomore will help Mallard Creek reload

Mallard Creek started the season with three goals. They accomplished two, winning a holiday tournament and the conference championship, but fell to T.C. Roberson in the semifinals of the state baseball playoffs.

Along the way, the Mavericks won the regular-season I-Meck 4A title and the conference championship, and set a school record for wins by finishing 22-7.

Next year, the team will look very different. Seven seniors graduate, including four of the top five batters and the top two pitchers.

One constant, however, is Kirk Morgan, a sophomore infielder and pitcher.

"It is going to be really tough to replace all of those guys we are losing. We have a bunch of kids leaving who are going on to play college baseball," Morgan said.

"We are really going to miss them, but we know we have to work hard this off season and get ourselves in position for another great year."

Head coach Shawn McGeorge said he was impressed with the work ethic and desire to improve underclassmen showed this year. They got valuable experience and will be leaned on next year, but the key will be Morgan.

"I don't think that we can replace those players we lost; we are just going to reload. We will be pretty young, but there is still a lot of talent on this team," said McGeorge. "Kirk is going to be a big key for us.

"He is going to be our workhorse."

Morgan will have to step into an expanded leadership role if the Mavericks are to return to the top of the conference. He already has begun preparing with his summer team, the South Charlotte Panthers, whose roster is a who's-who of local baseball talent.

"We were all sort of waiting for someone to step up as a leader, and I have assumed that role, doing anything I can to help us win," Morgan said.

Morgan plays shortstop, pitches and hits second in the order for the Panthers. Playing with some of the best local talent forces him to produce on a consistent level, he says.

"Being around guys just as good as I am really helps me get better, and I think pushes all of us. I know if I'm not playing well, there is a guy right behind me who will take my spot," Morgan said.

Morgan was named a Max Preps Freshman All-American last season and was a unanimous pick for the all-conference team. This year, he again was an all-conference pick and finished the year with a .436 batting average, 33 runs scored and 16 RBIs.

Morgan, who struggled early in the year as a starting pitcher, became the Mavericks' best relief pitcher, going 3-3 on the mound with three saves.

"I am not really a starting pitcher, I am not comfortable with it," Morgan said. "I want to come in with the bases loaded and no outs. That is when I want the ball: late in the game."

McGeorge said the semifinals against T.C. Roberson showed Morgan's best qualities. He came in with the bases loaded, and the first batter he faced hit a grand slam. Morgan ended up pitching 61/3 innings and struck out 10 batters, giving Mallard Creek a chance to win.

"They were making a pitching change late in that game after Kirk pitched well enough to let us get back into the game," McGeorge said. "He looked and me and said, 'Coach, when we tie this game I'm going to pitch until we win. I don't care if it's 14 innings, I am not coming out.' That is just how competitive he is."

The game lasted eight innings, and the Mavericks fell just short, losing 11-10, but it left Morgan and the remaining players eager to get back to the playoffs.

Juniors Dillon Dennis and Jamel Harbison and sophomore Kyle Bynum will also be key factors in Mallard Creek's season, but Morgan will play the largest role.

Morgan says he won't change his game for that responsibility. "It is really not going to be anything different, I just want to stay focused all year and contribute as much as I can," Morgan said.

"Whenever we need a spark, I will have to be one of the guys to step up and provide it, but nothing really changes from this year. I have been playing with these guys since I was 5 or 6 years old, and now it is my time to step up for them."

Morgan, who has a 4.25 GPA, already is starting to see some college interest from South Carolina, Coastal Carolina and East Carolina.

He says playing in college is one of his goals, and he is working hard to get noticed.

McGeorge said he is excited to have Morgan back, although losing the seniors will be hard to overcome.

"Kirk is the real deal. On the mound, it is like playing a video game - if you want a slider that starts outside and breaks off the plate, he can do that. He has great control," McGeorge said.

"He also has the rare chance at 200 hits in his career. That doesn't happen very often. It is a feat to have two straight 50-hit seasons, but he has a real chance.

"We are going to lean on him this year."