By Rocky Merritt
COVINGTON - After coming off a big win over crosstown rival Eastside High the previous night, 22-5, the Newton High Rams suffered their fourth loss of the year Thursday at the hands of the visiting Oconee County Warriors, 9-6.
"You can't give a good team runs," said Newton head coach Billy Roper after the loss. "We gave them four or five unearned runs."
The Rams (2-4 overall) struck for one run in the bottom of the first inning after an RBI triple to center field off the bat of Kinley Bryant. Bryant would go on to have an outstanding night, both offensively and defensively in the outfield.
In the top of the second, the Warriors (5-1) countered with a run of their own, tying the game, 1-1. Jay Harrison smacked an RBI double to left, scoring Jose Cepeda who had previously singled. Soon after Oconee's Christopher Scott launched what looked to clearly be a home run over the center field wall; however, Bryant slammed into the fence to snatch it away, earning him the top defensive play of the day.
Once again Bryant shined with the glove after he robbed Robert McGee of a hit to end the inning.
"No. 44 is an outstanding senior and played the game we expect," praised Roper of Bryant's performance on the field.
However, it was the Newton defense which allowed the Warriors to take the lead in the third. After a double by Adam Frazier, he eventually scored on an error to put his team ahead, 2-1. They added another run in the top of the fourth when Tripp Horn singled home Harrison.
But the Rams were aggressive at the plate in the bottom half of the fourth, putting two runs on the board to tie the game, 3-3. Roshoderec Reynolds smacked a sacrifice fly to right to plate Bryant for the first run, while Quinton Pooler scored the second after a passed ball.
During the top of the fifth, the Warriors regained the lead after Newton starting pitcher Nick Hembree gave up two runs, including three hits. Prior to that Hembree threw exceptionally well, but was yanked in the sixth after showing signs of fatigue.
Oconee added to the lead with three more runs in the sixth. Robert McGee and Adam Frazier each recorded RBI triples, forcing Seth Sullivan to relieve Hembree on the mound. Cepeda welcomed the new hurler with an RBI single, making it 8-3.
"It was a good game," said Oconee head coach Stan Fricks, who took advantage by using several different pitchers to throw the Rams off balance.
The Warriors pushed their lead to 9-3 in the seventh, forcing the Rams to have a big inning, which they did before ultimately falling short.
Oconee pitcher Corey Heny took the mound in the final frame, throwing hard and fast but not over the plate. Newton took advantage by staying disciplined at the plate, drawing four walks, one hits batsman and two hits which led to three runs.
"That was his first game against live pitching," noted Fricks of Heny's performance. "He is a lot better than that; he will be alright."
With the bases loaded, Oconee reliever John Newsom closed out the game without further damage, earning the save.
Oconee starting pitcher Jake Brewer was credited with the win. Brewer threw four innings, allowing one earned run and five hits.
The Warriors were led by Cepeda (RBI), Frazier (two runs) and Harrison (two doubles, RBI) who had two hits apiece.
Newton will next host Lithonia in region play at 4:45 p.m. on Wednesday.