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Posted: May 1, 2014 5:33 p.m.

Newton, Alcovy baseball prepare for playoff test

Matt Smith/

The Newton Rams varsity baseball team will host McEachern Friday in the first round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs.

As the regular season comes to a close, a new baseball season begins Friday night – the playoffs.

Newton and Alcovy High schools will represent Newton County in the Class AAAAAA state playoffs beginning this weekend, as Newton host visiting McEachern as the No. 1 seed from Region 2-AAAAAA, while Alcovy hits the road to take on Kennesaw Mountain as the league’s No. 4 seed.

Newton enters the playoffs as winners of seven of their last eight contests, defeating region foe Morrow April 25 in its final regular season game of the year while clinching the Region 2-AAAAAA title.

Alcovy enters the playoffs on a three-game non-region losing skid, but the Tigers battled their way into a playoff spot by defeating Lovejoy, Morrow and Druid Hills in their final three region contests.

Newton hosts

As the top seed in the region, the Rams will host the McEachern Indians, opening up play at 4 p.m. on Friday in the first game of a doubleheader.

First-year Newton coach Andre Byrd said the Rams will have to put pressure on McEachern to make plays in the field.

“We have got to make McEachern make plays,” Byrd said. “We have to put the ball in play early and often. Their pitchers are pretty good. I don’t want them to get comfortable on the mound. If they do, it could be a long night for us.”

Newton has ridden the arms of a pitching staff that includes Daniel Croom, Shawn Guckenberger, Alex Johnson and Allen Bowen, giving Byrd confidence that his unit can get the job done on the mound.

The Rams’ offense also has plenty of offensive firepower – with six batters with at least 70 plate appearances batting .300 or better.

Despite the match-up on paper, Byrd knows the team defensive will be the key.

“We have to play mistake-free ball and keep McEachern’s Trey Harris and Jared Walker off the base path,” he said. “These two are the key to their success. We will focus on those two guys this weekend. My guys are up for the challenge and are very ready to compete against a great team.”

Croom will get the start for Newton in game one.

Game three will be held Saturday, if necessary.

The opening round winner will advance to take on the winner of Tift County and Tri-Cities High School.

Tigers hit the road

While the Rams face the Indians at their friendly home confines, the Alcovy Tigers will hit the road to take on Kennesaw Mountain in their opening round contest.

In their final three region games, the Tigers recorded 26 runs, but have scored just eight total runs in their last three contests.

Alcovy coach Ryan Denison said that he hoped the Tigers’ challenging non-region schedule has prepared them for the postseason.

 “Our non-region schedule was very tough this year with very few non-playoff teams,” Denison said. “We have taken our bumps and bruises this year, but we have also grown a lot as a team.  Our young kids and our senior leaders stepped up and have given us this opportunity in the playoffs.”

While the Tigers have few seniors in number, Denison believes they’ll provide the leadership needed.

“Dalton Reagin, Jesse Gilbert, Nanpon Ross and Ricardo Menchaca — I can’t say enough about those seniors and their leadership this year,” he said. “Tristan Payne as well. Even though Tristan wasn’t able to play, he provided a lot of leadership off the field.  I have every confidence that we will play at 110 percent and play our hearts out to give us a chance at a playoff run.  I am extremely proud of this team’s accomplishment and growth.”

The Tigers will face a Mustang program that went 20-6 overall and recorded a 6-2 mark in Region 4-AAAAAA.

The Mustangs’ 10-game win streak was snapped in their final regular season contest at home against McEachern.

“From what we hear, they are a solid team with great pitching,” Denison said. “Ryley Gilliam is their No. 1 and a very tough pitcher throwing in the 90s.  Reggie Pruitt is their lead-off and spark plug.  Tyler Stephenson behind the plate is their power hitter.  We have a tough order, but if you look at our schedule, this team is similar to teams we have already played this year.”

Alcovy’s first contest against the Mustangs will begin at 5 p.m., with the second game to follow.

Game three will be held Saturday, if necessary.

The opening round winner will advance to take on the winner of Tift County and Tri-Cities High School.

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