A Conversation with Russ Morgan, Bohemia Manor Softball Coach
When Bohemia Manor's softball team defeated Allegany for the MPSSAA 1A state title last month, it was Morgan's second state championship in his coaching career, but first for softball. Morgan led the Eagles to a state championship on the baseball diamond in 2009 as well.
It's a remarkable accomplishment that is quite rare. We spoke with Morgan recently about both state championships, why he switched sports, and the similarities and differences between baseball and softball.
County Sports Zone:It's been exactly three weeks since Bohemia Manor's softball state title. In your opinion, why was this group able to win a state championship?
Russ Morgan:I think anytime you have a deep run in the playoffs, you need a combination of things. Good pitching, good and timely hitting, as well as some luck. You need the bounces to go your way some bloop singles and this team was able to do that all year. That's what propelled us to win games.
CSZ:How did you get started coaching baseball at Bohemia Manor?
RM:I graduated college and moved to Cecil County with my wife. She had a teaching job and I was substitute teaching, as well as long subbing. A coaching job at Rising Sun came open as their JV baseball. I'd played my whole life, so I took the job.
When the season ended I was fortunate enough to get a teaching job at Bo Manor and they needed an assistant on the baseball team. I started the spring of 1995 and I loved it- it's a sport I'd played my whole life and I was quite fortunate to get the openings when I did.
CSZ:What about Bo Manor makes it a fun place to coach?
RM:I like it because there are a lot of similarities to the high school I came through- it was a small school like Bo Manor, which is now bigger than mine actually. There's a lot of comfort there. You get small close-knit groups. You're always the little dog in the fight and when you are the smaller school and that's what you come from, you instantly relate to the struggles and what you are trying to accomplish.
CSZ:Talk about that state championship triumph in 2009. What made that group special, or different, from your other Eagles baseball teams?
RM:There were a lot of similarities between the two programs. 2006 in baseball we made the state final, we lost 2-1 to a really good pitcher from Snow Hill. The freshmen from that run were seniors in 2009 and they were an incredibly tight knit group- tons of fun and extremely superstitious.
We did a bunch of different things that year like taking an old plate to every game. Every time you stepped out of the dugout you had to step on it for good luck. We found a baseball in the woods that was fuzzy with green moss on it and called him Wilson. Wilson also went to every game with us. We had three guys in the outfield that had t-shirts that said TOF, which stood for true outfielders. They coordinated to wear the same color every day.
They were a lot of fun and we had a great pitcher too in Madison Neddo. Our pitcher this year for softball was also named Madison, Madison Penta, so that's pretty cool that they had the same name. We ate at the same restaurants after games, and both groups had a lot of fun together.
CSZ:When did you become the softball coach at Bohemia Manor, and why did you make the change? Had you coached softball before?
RM:I ended up being the softball coach because I have daughters. We won in 2009, won regional titles in 2012 and 2013, and then the softball position came open. The way we do it at Bo Manor, the teams play at the same time. Softball is over before baseball, and we don't play at the same places. If I was going to get to continue to watch my daughter, who I'd coached in little league and travel ball, I had to stop being the baseball coach.
CSZ:From a strategy perspective, how is coaching softball different than baseball? How is it similar?
RM:I get asked that question a lot. The biggest thing I've noticed is the running games are different- no leads really affects it. You don't have slappers in baseball like in softball. Softball is quicker, but basically the kids are the same.
From my experience, boys and girls, they want to win just as badly. You get just as many competitive girls as boys.
CSZ:Because of your experience of having already won a state title, did you give this year's softball team any different advice prior to the championship than the baseball team in 2009?
RM:It was different because when we went in 2006, and then winning in 2009, Bo Manor had never won a baseball state title before. The pitch was all about making your mark, doing something that all the teams before you had never done. It was a huge deal, and we really billed that a lot as making your mark in history.
With the girls, because the program has had a lot of success, we didn't bill it as staking a claim to history, but continuing the legacy. Bo Manor had some really good teams in the 1990's, winning multiple state titles. The last of that run came in 1995, my first year at the school, so I got to see it. Before the championship this year we talked about enjoying the moment, the experience and making sure that when you got done, however it went, that you had no regrets.
CSZ:It's so rare to have won a state title in two different sports, especially with it being two sports that happen in the same season. To what do you owe your success?
RM:I'm very fortunate. In 2009 I had a great assistant coach in Gary Johnson when we won, and a great assistant in Ed Abshagen this year. It's funny that in both championships when we won, we'd look across the diamond and saw we'd be facing a team with six or seven coaches. There were only two of us on our side, so we joked that we hoped it wouldn't come to a tug of war because we'd definitely lose.
More than that though, we had talented groups of kids who had grown up playing ball together. Both squads had good hitting, and really good pitching.
CSZ:Looking ahead, do you plan to continue coaching softball? Or could you see a return to the baseball diamond?
RM:I'm not 100-percent sure. My oldest daughter has one more year of high school softball, so I want to see her whether if I'm coaching softball or not- I want to watch her play. As far as baseball goes, I would love to go back at some point. There's benefits and advantages to both. They're unique and identical in lots of different ways, which is funny to say, but the same thrills I got in baseball I get in softball. Watching kids learn about the game and that's the great thing about it- there's always another level the kids can strive for. To answer your question, I wouldn't mind going back to baseball, but I'm quite happy with softball.
A big key to all of this though has also been my wife, Angela, being very supportive and making it work every spring when things get tougher. She definitely shares in this achievement.
|June 16th, 2017||By: Wick Eisenberg|