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Varsity Q&A: Fallston baseball coach Grant Morlock reflects on season ahead of regional playoffs

May 11—Early adversity gave Fallston baseball a reality check. It was a look-in-the-mirror moment that would alter the course of its season.

Now, the Cougars (15-5) hold the top seed in the regional playoffs with a first-round bye. They'll play the winner of No. 4 Elkton and No. 5 Harford Tech on Saturday. It's a bit of unfamiliar water, as Fallston won the Chesapeake Division championship outright for the first time since Grant Morlock took over as head coach a decade ago (they won the Susquehanna Division in 2014 and were Chesapeake Division co-champs in 2016).

Morlock spoke with The Aegis reflecting on the Cougars' regular season success and why he thinks his team is poised for a deep playoff run. (Note: Some questions and answers have been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.)

You had a slower start to the season with a mix of conference and nonconference losses. What do you attribute the early struggles to and what were you seeing at the time?

We were in tight ball games from the start. We opened by beating Bel Air then lost to C. Milton Wright the second game where we blew two leads. That was a day where we faced some adversity but I liked the way we responded to it. That was a Wednesday, we lose again on Friday in another tight game. It seemed like early in the year we just kept catching everybody's ace. Which is fine because we want to face everybody's best pitcher.

It's great for us to be in those situations. Obviously, we want to win but it's good to be in a tight game on March 29 where it's a one-run game in the sixth or in the seventh and that way our guys are more comfortable when those situations occur again.

What do you feel was the turning point in your season to finish with wins in 13 of your last 14 games?

The thing that kind of really changed our season was when we went down to the Xposure [Sports] tournament down in Columbia. We played two top-notch teams in River Hill and Centennial. The first game we faced River Hill's ace, Henry Zatkowski. He's going to Duke. He's one of the premiere pitchers in the state and mowed through our order and we lost, 11-0. The second game we played Centennial, another big 3A school in Howard County. We held our own but ended up losing, 10-5.

But I think that was a game where we kind of really realized we belong on the field with these kinds of teams. This is the kind of competition we want to be able to play up to. That was the turning point of the season in my opinion.

You said before the start of the season that pitching would be a real strength for you guys. Junior Paul Kvech and senior Finley Jourdan, in particular. How do you feel those two have lived up to the billing?

Paul has been a workhorse; he's 6-1. The only game he lost was the Centennial game in the tournament so really he's won six in a row, all Chesapeake Division wins. He's just been so consistent over his career. He's a strike thrower. He's got 35 innings, 33 strikeouts and only six walks. So he just doesn't hurt himself.

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Finley is 3-2 and again, one of those losses came in the tournament. He also got two saves. He came in huge in the Patterson Mill game the second time we played them. He came in with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh and struck out the last two to end the game, helping us hang on to win the game 5-4. Fin is more of a power pitcher than Paul is. He's got 34 innings, 47 strikeouts. He's been another guy we can trust day in and day out in the rotation.

Who is a player that has stepped up for you in a big way that was maybe unexpected?

No doubt that's Jake Baugess-Kimes. He's a senior third baseman, kind of a utility guy as a junior that didn't play a ton. He's cooled off a little bit the last week but he was leading the league in hitting for a majority of the season. He was up over .500 for a little while. He's hitting .426 on the year but he's just been an on-base machine. He went through one stretch where he was 12-for-15 in a week, all against Chesapeake division teams. He's got 17 RBIs, 14 runs scored and is 5-for-6 on stolen bases.

What has been your favorite moment from this season?

I don't want to make it about me but it was pretty cool when we beat C. Milton Wright on April 24. That was my 100th win as the coach at Fallston. Just being a guy that went to Fallston and played baseball there —I graduated in 2006 — That was probably the thing that sticks out to me. But I want the guys to understand that's not about me. At the end of the day, those 100 wins are on the players and the tradition in our program.

Having coached 10 seasons now, what do you feel like you've learned about the process and how to get ready for playoffs?

Just learning to be patient, right? I think I was a lot more hot-headed early in my career. I would get on umpires and get on guys a lot more. Now, I'm just trying to stay the course and let things happen. Let the game come to us instead of trying to go out and get the game. I think just relaxing and calming down a little bit. And giving guys opportunities that you would never expect. And then just over the years, how much the offseason conditioning we do together as a team, how much that helps the bonding and the culture of the program. How much that helps us in the long run.