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Protecting their turf
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Game over. Let the championship begin.

The Newton American All Stars outlasted the Troup County All Stars, 6-5, on Thursday night at City Pond Park, advancing to the Dixie Youth Minor League State Championship.

Newton (5-1) will face Buford in a best-of-three championship series, which begins at 7 p.m. today at City Pond Park.

Previously, the Norcross Southern All Stars were eliminated by Newton, 11-5, on Tuesday night. The victory kept Newton's undefeated record (4-0) in tact prior to entering Wednesday's game, with four remaining teams left in the tournament.

However, Newton was handed its first loss of the double-elimination tournament Wednesday evening, falling to Troup County, 9-6. Entering Thursday, each of the four remaining teams had one loss.

But ultimately the Newton American All Stars would have their revenge against Troup County.

After the win over Norcross, Newton County Recreation Commission athletic supervisor Ricky Vaughn could not have been more proud of the American All Stars.

"When we put the team together, we were optimistic about it," said Vaughn, "but so far they've exceeded any of my expectations; we've been real pleased with them."

Despite the other local all-star team (Newton National) falling to Buford on Monday night - eliminating Newton from the tournament - Vaughn was equally proud of its accomplishments.

"They exceeded our expectations, too," said Vaughn. "They played their hearts out."

The Newton American All Stars are hoping to become the third team to win the state championship in this particular age group during the last nine years.

"You can't do it without the coaches, and these are three of the best we have," said Vaughn of the Newton American All-Star coaches - manager Terry Ballard, Don Ritchey and Darryl A. Sumner.

In 24 years of coaching and three trips to the World Series, the Newton head coach has never seen anything like it.

"Man, words can't describe it," said Ballard. "We've been with these guys for only (five) weeks, but I haven't ever seen a team like this before. These kids get along well (and) we've got a great group of parents; it takes all that to make everything come together and win."

Sumner assists with coaching duties in the dugout, which can certainly be difficult for any coach, but not for him.

"Oh, I'm super proud of them," said Sumner. "They all listen (because) we just talk to them in a nice level tone; everything has been falling together."

Like the others, Ritchey is equally proud of his all-star squad.

"We're playing up to our abilities and doing just like we'd hope to be," said Ritchey.

Against Norcross, the score was tied, 1-1, after the first inning.

With the bases loaded in the bottom half of the second, Newton's Jonathan Wells delivered a sharp RBI single to left field, making it 2-1. And with two outs and runners on first and second, Newton's Cameron Banks laced an RBI single to center. Grady Ritchey gave Newton a 4-1 lead after a bases loaded walk.

After a scoreless third inning for each team, Norcross tacked on three runs in the next inning, tying the game, 4-4.

But the Newton bats exploded for seven runs during the bottom half of the fourth inning, as the team batted around in the order, combining for six hits and two walks.

"The one thing about this team is (that) we've had good sticks all year," said Ballard.

The dagger in the heart came off the bat of Newton's Hunter Ballard, who smacked a two-run double in the gap between left and center field. The extra-base hit knocked Norcross pitcher Danny Price out of the game.

"We've got a lot of speed," said Coach Ritchey, "and if we can get them on base we can usually move them."

Despite walking three in the top of the fifth, Newton's JaQuory Saxton struck out three to escape the jam.

Norcross would eventually add another run in its final at-bat, but it was not enough to overcome the opposing seven-run fourth inning.

Unfortunately for the Newton American All Stars, the tables were turned Wednesday night against Troup County.

Perhaps the rain played a factor for both teams because the defense was sloppy on the field. Combined, there were nine errors in the game, five of which came by way of Newton.

Despite striking out eight and limiting Troup to just six hits, Newton pitchers combined to walk 13 batters, seven of whom eventually scored. On the other hand, Newton had 11 hits but only one base on balls.

Newton's Hunter Knox, Darrien Sumner and Wells each recorded multiple hits (two apiece) for the local all stars. In addition, Cason Ritchey had two RBIs, while Banks and DaAnthony Bell each had one RBI. Newton runs were scored by Wells (two), Ballard, Ritchey, Sumner, and Jacob Younker.

Troup starting pitcher Jonathan Foster pitched a complete game for the win, and recorded five strikeouts in the process.

But as mentioned earlier, Newton would have the last laugh against Troup.