By Brian Paglia
After a promising start to the season, a span of six games and 13 days in which Morrow seemed poised to recapture its former dominance, the Mustangs now find themselves struggling to compensate for ankle injuries to senior guard Sean Stringfellow and senior small forward De'Andre Smith.
Both are questionable for today's Region 4-AAAAA game at Riverdale at 7:30 p.m. Stringfellow injured his ankle in the third quarter of Morrow's 74-61 loss to No. 4 (AAAAA) Westlake on Dec. 5, but he played through the injury and was later diagnosed by a doctor after the game. Smith fell victim the following Monday at practice when he came down on a teammate's foot and rolled his ankle.
With Stringfellow and Smith playing, this game would hold significance as an early-season barometer between two programs with lofty preseason expectations.
But with Stringfellow and Smith missing for the better of part of Morrow's two consecutive losses over the weekend, the No. 9 Mustangs (6-3, 1-3) are scrambling to find players to equal the productivity of their two missing leaders.
"We're scrambling to try and get them back in," Morrow coach Jay Livingston said.
Senior Audley Feemster replaced Stringfellow, and Livingston said he auditioned several players in the last two games to fill Smith's wing position but to no avail.
"The people that are stepping in, they're a little upset because they're not playing to level in which they would like to," Livingston said. "And a lot of that goes to realizing you never know when it's your turn to play. You have to prepare everyday, every game as though you are. So now they're trying to scramble to get their skills together, step up to the task."
In Stringfellow and Smith's absence,
Tony Dukes has elevated his play, scoring 30 points against Mundy's Mill on Friday and 28 against Lovejoy on Saturday.
But the Mustangs lost both, extending its losing-streak to three games.
Livingston hoped that with rest that week Stringfellow and Smith could play, but they were "about 70 percent," Livingston said.
He wasn't sure Monday if they would be available tonight.
"We're not exactly sure," Livingston said. "Hopefully. But even if they are, the question is what percentage. Right now they're limping and gimping."
If there is any solace for Morrow in its predicament, it is that Christmas break is just ahead, offering more rest to heal those wounds that are handicapping the Mustangs and more time for Livingston to discover which players are capable of performing when called upon under duress.
"I often say to them that this is a very long season," Livingston said. "It's the longest shortest season you can imagine. When the bell rings, you have to be able to answer it, so that's what they're learning."