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Dark horse
Newton enters tournament as underdog

Everything is the same. The Newton All-Stars have been doing the same thing they were doing before they were district champions, and that’s not changing anytime soon.

Since winning district, Newton has been mostly hard at work preparing for the state tournament. Head coach Brian Digby said the team took a couple days off and has only had one or two hard practices.

“I want the kids to be fresh when we get down there. We had one or two really hard practices. We’ve been having a little bit more fun than we’ve had in the past,” Digby said. “We don’t want to burn them out on baseball too much. We’ve been kind of relaxed for the last week since the last district tournament.”

As far as preparation goes for Peachtree National – the team Newton will face off against in Warner Robins on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. – Digby has covered all his bases, pun intended.

“We’re trying to put them in every scenario possible.The little things that can happen in a game, a little pop-up between the outfielder and the infielder, we tried to do a lot of those drills where we get the kids used to calling each other off. So that when a ball goes up in the air somebody kind of has an idea that we both keep going after it until somebody calls it,” Digby said.

“We’ve been working on a lot of cut-off drills with plays at home. Basically we’ve been trying to put the kids in every scenario possible. The plays that hardly ever happen, we’ve actually been practicing them so that they’re not surprised by anything.”

Digby added that they’ve been working on cut-offs and rundowns, plays they didn’t experience much in district.

“Man, we’ve covered every base there is I believe. I don’t know what we haven’t covered and if it hadn’t been covered it’s going to be a shock to me, too,” Digby laughed.

When Newton won the district championship on July 5, almost two weeks ago, it did so with a chip on its shoulder. Going into state, Newton’s mindset is much of the same.

“Of course we thought we had a good team, everybody was talking about Athens and Central-Walton,” Digby said. “Our defense and our pitching are our biggest asset, but in the district tournament I think the last two games we only had three strikeouts, which is very rare. Right now the boys are hitting the ball really good. I like our hitting and even talking to two past coaches from the team that went to state last year, both of them basically told me the same thing. They like the way we’re swinging the bats.”

“We were clicking in that district tournament. When we go to state we’re going to have to have that same mindset. I think the boys are really, really prepared. I think that district tournament gave them a lot of confidence,” Digby said.

Going into district, Newton wasn’t expected to win the championship and nothing’s changed going into state. When asked if Digby and his team like playing with that chip on their shoulder, he said they do.

“It’s different when you go to state, because you’re playing the best of the best. The winner of this actually represents the state of Georgia,” Digby said. “Newton’s only been there two times I think in the last 14 years. I don’t compare us to the team last year, because I thought that was a good team. I think we have a lot of different qualities than that team. I actually think we play more as a team than a lot of these other teams coming into the tournament because they’re going to have their two or three studs and, like I said before, we don’t rely on just one person. We rely on all 12 kids.”

Digby’s team, which managed to hit three home runs in the district championship, will look to continue riding its momentum into the state tournament. With kids this age, nervousness is expected going into any game, but even more so for one of this magnitude. Surprisingly, Digby feels that same nervousness just like his players.

“It’s really a different atmosphere compared to years past. Not just me, but all the coaches, we told the kids, ‘You have a right to be nervous.’ That nervous energy they have is a positive nervous energy,” Digby said. “A lot of them are just ready to play ball. If you’ve ever played sports, everybody gets nervous. I get nervous. I’m 41 years old. I’ve been doing this for over 15 years. I don’t play the game, I coach it, but it’s hard for me to sleep at night before a game because I’m so anxious to get it going. But once that first pitch is made, everything just kind of goes away, and it’s just a game.”

“A lot of the parents and a lot of the kids are really nervous and anxious, but as coaches we’re walking into the unseen. We haven’t seen any of these teams so we don’t know really what to prepare for,” Digby said. “We just know that when we step on the field it’s still a game and we got to be ready no matter who we’re playing.”

Digby said that he doesn’t let his kids get caught up in the hype of other teams’ glory or potential.

“That’s the biggest thing we’ve reiterated. Don’t get caught up on the size of some of these teams. Don’t get caught up in the way they hit in batting practice, because they’re still 11 and 12 year old kids,” Digby added. “I really think we have just as good a shot as the Warner Robins and the Columbus teams, which seem to be the two favorites every year. It’s kind of cool going in there as the dark horse again because I don’t think anybody is going to expect Newton to do anything. I hope we shock them. I hope we shock a lot of people.”