Morgan Watson knew she could start on a high school varsity softball team. The hard part was waiting to get the chance.
The sophomore shortstop had transferred from North Forsyth to Forsyth Central last season, entering Central’s cosmetology program, but had to wait to join the Lady Bulldogs’ varsity team until her hardship application was processed by the Georgia High School Association. She could practice with varsity and play games with junior varsity, but there was no reliable answer for how long her hardship application would take.
“I knew going into it I could probably not get to play the whole [varsity] season,” Watson said.
Six games into the season, Watson seemed like she was going to be right. Central was 2-4, and Watson was still on junior varsity.
She was preparing for another junior varsity game August 24 when that changed. Watson was in the locker room when teammates told her Central head coach Kaelin Farrington needed to see her. Watson met her on the field where she got the news.
“She was like, ‘Hey, we got your hardship back. You’re playing [varsity] tomorrow,’” Watson remembers. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ It was a cool moment.”
Watson made up for lost time. The next night, a 5-2 win against Kell, Watson went 2-for-3 with a run, stolen base and RBI. In 15 total games, she hit .500 (19-for-38), slugged .868, had five doubles, three triples and a home run with 15 RBI. In 47 plate appearances, she struck out just twice. In the field, she made just three errors.
Central went on to finish 13-8 overall, 9-4 in Region 7-5A and miss the state playoffs by just one game, but it was a perfect season to Watson.
“It was better than I could ask for,” Watson said, “because I was just having fun. I wasn’t worried about stats, I wasn’t worried about junior varsity or varsity. I just wanted to be out there having fun. I like the way everything fell into place.”
Watson has seen the side of high school and youth sports that can make it not fun.
She’s been playing travel softball since she was 10, first with the Georgia Reign then Atlanta Vipers and now Team Georgia. She’s crisscrossed the country to play in tournaments with five games in a single day under the watchful eye of college coaches.
“There are a lot of scouts everywhere and a lot of pressure to perform,” Watson said. “When you’re facing pitchers from California and all over the country, it’s very intimidating. It can get in your head a lot.”
Yes, Watson has seen that side of it. But she doesn’t understand it.
She took up softball in the first grade. A friend told her she was playing the sport, so that same night Watson told her parents she wanted to too. It was a perfect match for Watson, who was “very aggressive when I was little,” she says.
Success and friendships compelled her on. Several of her friends’ families started the Reign, a team full of players of Forsyth County, some of whom are teammates with Watson at Central now. She tried out for and made the Vipers, one of the state’s strongest travel softball associations, which solidified her confidence. This summer she played for Team Georgia Hawk with Lambert’s Marissa Guimbarda, South Forsyth’s Emily Harris and West Forsyth’s Alana Frye and finished fifth at the 2016 Triple Crown National Championships in New York last week.
Each step was both fun and challenging for Watson. The competition got better, but a cadre of friends was there to make it manageable.
When she moved to Central last year, Watson got the same feeling, even if it cost her some of her sophomore season.
“When I made the decision to come here, I knew that and I wanted to come anyway,” Watson said. “I love this program. I love Coach Farrington. I love the way everything is run here.”
Indeed, she loves the team pool parties and fierce badminton games, the positive vibes from Farrington, the chance to wear the school name on her jersey.
Even as Central moves up in classification into Class 7A and into Region 5 with Forsyth County’s other public high schools – what figures to be a more daunting schedule and season – Watson is buoyed by the prospects of getting to play an entire season, and doing it with her friends.
“When we get together as a team, I think we have a chance against any team,” Watson said. “We all worked hard over the summer. I think we can compete this year.”