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Posted: March 9, 2012 12:00 a.m.

Defensive woes plague Rams

In a key early region match-up, the Newton Rams lost to the Stephenson Jaguars 5-4 at Newton High School on Monday night.

The loss dropped the Rams to 1-1 in the region (4-5 overall) with another region game today against Newnan.
The Rams outhit the Jaguars 10-5, but Newton was unable to execute well on the fundamentals of defense, base running and denying walks.

Though the Rams came back from a 3-1 deficit to take a 4-3lead after four innings, Stephenson countered with two in the top of the fifth and held on for the win.

Sherman Graves started for Newton but was wild early as Stephenson jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first with two hits, a walk and a hit batsman. The inning could have been worse.

A single and balk put the lead-off hitter at second. A pitch was thrown in the dirt, and the catcher Ryan McCranie was able to partially block it and throw out the runner who had miscalculated his try to advance as the ball scooted away.

In the bottom of the third, Jeremy Laguins led off with a single to right field. Tripp Lofton followed with a triple to bring home Laguins. Ram coach Vincent Byams pointed out a bright spot on the evening.

"I was pleased with the top of the lineup, especially with Jeremy Laguins. He filled in the lead-off spot and got some good clutch hits and was a catalyst for most of our run scoring innings."

After the Jaguars regained the lead 3-1 on a Ram error and two base hits, the Rams came back in their half of the fourth.

With two outs, Cortless Hardeman was hit by a pitch and Laguins doubled to left-center.

Lofton reached base hustling down the line on a bobbled ball by the Jaguar first-baseman. After the runners moved up on a wild pitch, Allen Bowen followed with a single to drive in both runners to tie the game. McCranie singled before the inning ended and the Rams held a 4-3 lead.

However, a couple of instances of playing fundamental baseball struck the Rams hard in the fifth. A lead-off walk was followed by a strikeout. The next Jaguar hitter laid down a sacrifice bunt, but no one covered first on the play and the Jaguars had two on with one out. After the runners advanced on a wild pitch, a single drove in both runners. McCranie came on to pitch and disposed of the next two hitters. Coach Byams commented, "Sherman didn't really have his best stuff today but battled through.

McCranie came in there and shut the door on the Jaguars the rest of the way. We had some good timely hits that we needed, but allowed too many walks and made too many errors and base running mistakes and those cost us the win and we've got to eliminate those." On the night, Graves allowed three earned runs in four and one-third innings on four hits and four walks.

He did continue his high strikeout ratio with seven on the night. McCranie pitched the final two and two-third innings, allowing no runs on one hit, one walk, and recorded four strikeouts.

The game remained 5-4 going into the bottom of the seventh. Daniel Croom opened the inning with a base hit into right field but was cut down trying to stretch it into a double.

The Rams were still able to scratch and claw their way back to load the bases with two outs before a fly-out to center ended the game.

The loss adds more meaning to the historically tough Newnan game on Friday at Newton. Newton also hosts a non-region game against Stockbridge on Wednesday.

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