After 33 games and 16 teams dating back to July 14, a new Dixie Youth minor league state champion has been crowned.
The Buford Wolves captured the title Saturday afternoon at City Pond Park by defeating the Newton County American All Stars, 8-6.
As a result, Buford advances to the Dixie Youth World Series on August 6 in Madison Heights, Va.
"Oh, man I couldn't ask for anything more," said a tearful Newton assistant coach Don Ritchey afterwards. "It's been an honor to coach this team, and I'm proud of all 12 of them."
Despite jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning - compliments of a three-run homer by J.J. Saxton - it was still not enough for Newton to overcome an eight-run, nine-hit frame during the bottom half of the same inning.
With two outs and the bases loaded in the final inning, Newton could not capitalize.
"It could have (gone) either way for both teams," stated Ritchey. "(Buford) hit the ball in the first inning and that was the difference in the ball game, but we battled right up to the last strike."
Previously, Newton lost its first game of the best-of-three series Friday night, 3-1.
Despite having twice as many hits (10) than Buford (five), Newton left 13 runners on base in the first game. Overall, Newton was 10-for-25 at the plate (.400 batting average) while Buford was 5-for-25 (.200).
For Newton, the big blow came in the top of the first inning. Buford's Keyton Gibson lined a two-run double to right field, scoring Steven Reese and Chase Hunter to make it 2-0. In the end, it would be all the runs the Wolves would need.
But the local all stars cut the lead in half during the bottom of the first, after Cason Ritchey drew an RBI hit-by-pitch, scoring Hunter Ballard.
Just to be safe, Buford would add another run in the third inning. With the bases loaded and no outs, Hunter lined an RBI single to center field, which scored Connor Tarleton. Newton would eventually escape without further harm, although the damage had already been done.
Buford's Steven Wysocki collected the win in three solid innings of work, while allowing five hits. Damian Phillips earned the save, after pitching the final two innings and recording two strikeouts.
Ritchey was dealt the loss, despite pitching four strong innings and striking out six along the way.
However, Newton would get revenge in the second game Saturday morning, as the American All Stars evened the series by outplaying the Wolves, 11-6.
This time around it was Buford that apparently had trouble scoring, as the Wolves left 11 runners on base.
Arguably, the two most dominating factors for Newton in this particular contest were D'Anthony Bell and Saxton.
Bell pitched a complete game - a gem and a dandy at that - as he recorded eight strikeouts. Bell limited the Wolves to an overall .286 team batting average (8-for-28). In addition, he received spectacular defense from his teammates on the field.
Meanwhile, Saxton provided enough punch for everyone at a high school prom, going 2-for-3 including a home run and four RBIs.
"When that guy's hitting, that team's up," smiled Ritchey regarding Saxton, who hit three home runs in the tournament. "Boy, it's a different ball team when he's hitting the ball."
Of course, it was certainly a team effort - five Newton players recorded multiple hits (two apiece) - Ballard, Saxton, Ritchey, Cameron Banks and C.J. Sims.
Overall, Newton was 14-for-33 (.424 batting average) and scored its 11 runs by way of Jon Wells (two), Jared Sumner (two), Bell (two), Banks (two), Ballard (one), Saxton (one) and Sims (one).
"We made adjustments and came out hitting the ball hard," admitted Ritchey.
Newton struck in the first inning, scoring the first two runs. It was all Bell would need for at least the next two innings of work on the mound.
Newton would add to its lead during the top of the third inning. With two outs and runners on second and third, Saxton belted a two-run double to the center field fence, making it 4-0.
But the Wolves refused to back down without a fight, and added three runs of their own in the bottom half of the same inning. No matter - Newton retained the earlier four-run lead by getting three more runs in the fourth inning. The key hit came off the bat of Gray Ritchey, who lined an RBI single to left field and eventually advanced to third base on an error.
After an RBI single by Tarleton in the bottom of the fourth, Buford trailed by just two runs, 7-5.
However, Saxton added some insurance - and dramatics - in the fifth inning after launching a two-run homer to the deepest part of the park in center field. The blast ignited the crowd, creating an excited frenzy among his team after Saxton crossed home plate.
Sumner provided more padding to the lead after he went shopping at the outfield gap with a two-run single in the following inning.
Buford's Hunter and Tarleton each had multiple hits (two apiece), while RBIs were collected by Tarleton (two), Freeman Edwards (one) and Gibson (one).
Overall, the state tournament - which began July 14 - was a huge success and attracted approximately 1,500 fans.
"We were well pleased with the tournament," said Tommy Hailey, director of the Newton County Recreation Commission. "It's a great organization (Dixie Youth) and we're just glad to be a part of it. Our staff was great, the weather cooperated with us, our grounds crew was phenomenal and (the) people from our town was great; you couldn't ask for anything more."
Newton athletic supervisor Ricky Vaughn echoed those same words.
"I'm extremely proud of the tournament and the way the community supported it," said Vaughn. "(I'm) disappointed that we lost, but to come that far (is) a real good achievement.
"It's a lot of work, but it's real rewarding," added Vaughn, "and it's all about the kids, so that's why we are here."