In one of the most drama-filled games in Newton County history, Jake Jones delivered the final jaw-dropping moment.
Jones' walk-off home run gave Alcovy a 10-9 victory over Newton in nine innings on Saturday.
Down 9-2 in the bottom of the seventh, Alcovy rallied to tie the game and then win on a walk-off homer in the 9th inning.
The first six innings belonged to Newton as starter Sherman Graves struck out 10, while allowing only one unearned run and one hit in his five innings of work. Offensively, Ryan McCranie provided the firepower, driving in five runs with three home runs. The Tigers, down to their last at-bat, came up with seven runs, highlighted by 2-run homers by Bowen Braswell and Austin Fuller. The Tigers tied the game at 9-9 and with two outs and runners on second and third, but had their inning end on a line drive snagged by Ram shortstop A.B. Bowen. With all the momentum having swung back to Alcovy, the Tigers finally ended the game on the homer by Jake Jones in the bottom of the ninth.
"Our guys are high school kids. There are a lot of emotions in this game," Alcovy coach Casey Bates said. "The main thing I told them that they have to control their emotions. Just like the Eastside game. All these kids grew up together. They all know each other, trying to get inside each other's head. But that's just part of it."
Alcovy took the early 1-0 lead in the first without the benefit of a hit. The score remained 1-0 until the Rams came to the plate in the top of the third. With one out, first baseman Tripp Loftin and Graves both reached base on hard-hit grounders miss-played by the Tiger left side of the infield. Ryan McCranie then drove a two-strike pitch over the left-center field fence to put the Rams up 3-1. Ram third baseman, Zack Sullivan followed with a single and Bowen Braswell came on to replace starting pitcher Dalton Reagin. Braswell recorded a strikeout for the second out, but a walk brought Shawn Guckenberger to the plate with two on and two out. Gukenberger hit a long double to right-center bringing both runners home. After an Alcovy error, Loftin singled in the sixth and seventh run of the inning.
With Austin Fuller coming in to pitch for Alcovy in the top of the fourth, McCranie went deep for the second time to center to put Newton up 8-1. Then in the top of the sixth, McCranie hit his third homer of the day well over the left-field fence pushing the Rams to a seemingly overwhelming 9-1 lead. In the bottom of the sixth, Alcovy put their second run on the board. Ryan McCranie came out from behind the plate to pitch and Braswell greeted him with a double and moved to third with one out on a Fuller single. An error brought home Braswell, but Alcovy was unable to do any more damage.
"Overall that is the best Newton team I have seen in my years," Bates said. "That Sherman kid can pitch and McCranie can swing the bat and he is a good catcher. They have some good talent and that shortstop can be really smooth. They don't have the same homerun power, except maybe that McCranie kid. But they are going to make some noise in their region."
The bottom of the seventh started innocently enough for the Rams with a strikeout. But an error put Dusty Daniel on base and Braswell followed with a 2-run homer. After a walk to Jones, Fuller drove out his own 2-run shot. Tripp Loftin came on to pitch for Newton and had an uncharacteristic wild outing.
Three walks and a double later put the game on the line with two outs. Loftin got Daniel to hit a line-drive at the shortstop, but the ball was miss-played and the tying run scored. After another walk, a line drive was again hit at the shortstop, who this time made the play to end the inning.
Commenting on his team's play, coach Vincent Byams said, "I can't fault the effort from the guys. They played hard. We had a good opportunity to make outs and had two crucial errors down the stretch - one that started Alcovy's big inning.
"Then walks loading the bases and then the error on the line drive - it was a hard drive, but catching that would have ended the ballgame. It doesn't matter what part of the game it is, but you have to make the plays because those kind of plays will come back to bite you. Good teams like Alcovy take advantage of such opportunities."
Newton went down in order in the top of the eighth with Daniel striking out the side. In the bottom of the eighth with Zack Sullivan on the mound, Alcovy was three times one pitch away from ending the game. A walk to Fuller, who advanced to second on a wild pitch opened the inning.
Josh Beddington laid down a successful bunt with Fuller safe at third. With Beddington reaching first on the play, Darius Hill was walked intentionally to load the bases. Sullivan fell behind both of the next hitters before striking both out on 3-2 counts. Dalton Reagin then came to the plate and Sullivan promptly got behind 3-0 on Reagin. However, Sullivan put the next two pitches over the plate to pull back to 3-2 and got a groundout to end the inning.
After the Rams went down in order again in the ninth, the first two Alcovy hitters were retired bringing Jake Jones to the plate.
Jones delivered a walk-off homer to lift Alcovy over Newton, ending the game in fitting dramatic fashion.
"I don't fault Zack Sullivan," Byams said. "He got us out of the eighth under a lot of pressure and only made one mistake pitch at the end of the game."
Bates summed up the game from the Alcovy perspective saying, "never say quit," and then joked, "I'm going to have to take some blood pressure medication when I get home."