By Miles Steele
LAGRANGE - The Newton County Tigers 12-year-old AAA baseball team spent the past weekend in LaGrange, where they participated in the USSSA Big Hitter's Classic Tournament.
And what a weekend it turned out to be, as the Tigers went undefeated en route to winning the tournament.
The third-ranked AAA Tyrone Astros, as well as the Dugout Club Tigers from the Major Division, were also battling for the title, ensuring that the road to the championship would be no cake walk.
The Tigers started Saturday's pool play by facing the Astros, who had twice defeated the Tigers two weeks earlier at the Director's Cup Tournament.
However, it was a different story this time around.
Despite digging themselves in a hole by allowing the Astros to post five runs in the first inning and one in the third, the Tigers clawed their way back by scoring one run in the second, two runs in the fourth and two more in the fifth.
Entering the top of the sixth inning, the Tigers trailed 6-5 and quickly found themselves down to their last out as Alex Anderson came to the plate.
But Anderson came through with a clutch double to right field to extend the inning and put the tying runner in scoring position.
Dalton Reagin followed with a home run to center field, putting the Tigers in the lead for the first time, 7-6.
After holding the Astros scoreless in the bottom half of the sixth, the Tigers had sealed the victory.
Jake Jones and Drew Buckhault split the pitching duties for the game.
The second game Saturday matched the Newton County Tigers with the Dugout Club Tigers (Dugout Club) from Tyrone.
The game started well for the Newton County Tigers, with a solo home run in the first by Jones and a solo homer in the second by Trey Rampy. But once again they found themselves in a hole when Tyrone plated four runs in the bottom of the first and five in the third.
Newton's Blake Pike scored in the fourth to make the score 9-3 entering the fifth frame with time running short.
But a combination of base hits, walks, wild pitches, passed balls and errors put Newton back in the game, as M.J. Boykin (two runs), Cody Walker, Pike, Buckhault, Hank Steele, Rampy, Anderson, Reagin and Jones crossed the plate.
The scoring barrage ended with Buckhault belting a two-run homer to make the score 15-9, which was held up as Walker pitched a scoreless fifth.
The Newton County Tigers entered Sunday's elimination bracket as the No. 1 seed against the Sandtown Blue Jays.
After a scoreless first inning, the Tigers got on the board in the bottom of the second when Walker doubled. Anthony Banks followed with a long home run. An RBI single by Rampy scored Buckhault, who previously doubled.
The Blue Jays countered with some offense of their own by scoring five runs in the top of the third. However, the Tigers responded when Banks hit a two-run homer to tie the score, 5-5.
The Blue Jays took a 6-5 lead into the top of the fourth inning, but it was short lived, as the Tigers came charging back with a double by Rampy, a single by Boykin and a three-run homer by Jones.
After Walker reached on a single, the Blue Jays gave the hot-hotting Banks an intentional walk. Walker eventually scored on a single by Pike to close out the inning, with the Tigers leading, 9-6.
After Buckhault pitched a scoreless fifth, followed by a scoreless sixth by Walker, the Tigers were heading to the championship game against the Dugout Club Tigers, who had previously disposed of the Astros during their first round matchup.
The Dugout Club scored twice in the first to get things rolling, while Newton managed just one run in the first.
After a scoreless second inning, the Dugout Club plated another run in the third to lead, 3-1. But Newton responded when Reagin drew a walk, Walker doubled and Banks singled to pick up two RBIs and tie the game. The Tigers pushed another run across the plate to take the lead in the bottom of the fourth, only to find the game once again tied entering the bottom of the fifth.
Newton's Boykin scored in the fifth to take the lead and put Walker in line for the win on the mound. Jones entered to work the save in the sixth, where he got the first batter to flyout to short. He struck out the second batter and finished the game after a diving Hank Steele laid out for a dramatic game-ending catch at third.
"Our team never gave up when we got behind, and that is what put us in a position to win," said Newton coach Scott Walker said. "You've got to admire that aggressive effort."
The Tigers have compiled a 19-5 tournament record this season, including three tournament championships. They remain among the top four AAA teams in the state of Georgia, according to the most recent USSSA Rankings.
The Tigers will next compete in the State Warm-Up Qualifier in Conyers on May 30.
For more information, visit the team Web site at http://eteamz.active.com/NewtonCountyTigers.
Compiled by Jason Murdock, News sports editor