It was a hot Saturday morning with sunny skies and a slight breeze that appeared every 15 minutes or so to provide just a little comfort from the beaming sun. It’s easy to say this wasn’t a pitcher’s duel. In fact it was more like a home run derby – a highly entertaining championship game nonetheless.
All the Newton All-Stars had to do was beat Athens to be district champions yet again, and that’s exactly what they did in a 8-5 victory.
After Newton pitcher Jackson Watts got out of the first inning with a runner stranded on third, Newton got off to a quick start that would prove costly for Athens. Andrew Caldwell was on the mound for Athens. Watts drove one deep that looked like a homer at first, and it made a loud clang off the bat before it touched the middle of the gate deep in centerfield for a single.
Right behind Watts was Chandler Gates, who hit a double between center and right to advance Watts to third. Peyton Watson came up to bat and started fighting off strikes with foul balls. Caldwell finally gave Watson something he could get a hold of, and Watson delivered by hitting it deep flying over the fence for a three-run homer to put Newton up 3-0. The crowd and Watson’s teammates went in an uproar as the umpire gave the ‘circle the bases’ signal.
Caldwell was able to get out of the inning with only a runner on base and no more runs from Newton. Watts stayed in the zone as he went three-up and three-down in the top of the second inning.
Jerrol Hines lined a chopper to short and made it to first off sheer speed. He advanced to third off a couple hits, but he was left stranded on base to end the inning.
With the score at 3-0 in the bottom of the third, it seemed Newton’s offense was settling in after the quick jump. Watson came back up to bat and Caldwell threw his first pitch of the inning and boom! Watson blasted a solo home run way back over the fence and trotted around the bases with a bright smile on his face.
As Athens sat watching, down 4-0 entering the fourth, it seemed the chances at winning a district championship were fading. A couple of base hits did the trick for Athens. There were no outs with runners at the corners. A hit to deep center allowed Athens to get its first run of the game, but it was a close one. As the runner crossed the plate he was almost gunned down from the outfield. A second quicker and he likely would have been called out.
Newton found itself in a jam in the top of the fourth. Athens was starting to get hits off Watts, and with the bases loaded and only one out Newton head coach Brian Digby talked with his team at the mound.
“He threw the ball good the whole game,” Digby said. “He had a couple miscues, a couple of bloopers, he had them off balance the whole game. I knew I still had all my pitching left. We talked about it and we all made that decision as a coaching staff. He deserves to stay in there and whatever happens, happens.”
Digby’s confidence to leave Watts in proved to be a great decision. Watts got the next batter out after he hit the ball to first and the runner was thrown out at home. Watts ended the top of the inning in terrific style by striking out Athens’ last batter, leaving three runners stranded on base and Athens down 4-1.
In a scratch-your-head move, Watson, who had been the hero of the contest so far for Newton, was taken out by Digby in the bottom of the fourth inning.As a result Newton wasn’t able to put any runs on the board in the fourth.
“You have to play your subs two innings, everybody’s got to bat one time,” Digby said. “When push comes to shove I got faith in all of our kids, that’s worked the whole tournament. That being said, if I had to put him in later in the game he’s still there.”
Digby’s decision to take Watson out didn’t look so good after Athens managed to take a 5-4 lead by scoring four runs in the fifth inning, including a three-run homer despite a Newton pitching change from Watts to Gates.
The bottom of the fifth would end up just like the bottom of the first for Newton. After being quiet offensively for most of the game, Christian Davis got into the home run contest with a solo shot to tie the game at five.
Sambo Burton and Jaden Latimore got into the action as well. Burton recorded a double and Latimore posted a single to put runners at the corners. JD Coltharp wasn’t going to leave his teammates hanging. Coltharp lobbed one just over the second basemen, but the fielder was able to make a beautiful diving catch to prevent a run from scoring and keep the game tied.
Athens was looking to do to Newton what Newton had just done to them and escape the inning with minimal damage, but Hines had other things on his agenda. Hines vaulted one in deep center, and just like that it was out of here. A three-run homer to put Newton up 8-5 and force an Athens pitching change.
That was all she wrote. In the sixth inning, the only highlight was the loud roars from the Newton crowd cheering on the 9/10 team playing on the opposite field, that was battling back to tie their game versus Oconee at 3-3. They went on to fall 4-3, but not for lack of effort.
The 12U Newton All-Stars are headed to state in Warner Robins.
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years and I’ve had eight all-star teams, that’s the best one,” Digby said proudly as he choked up a little.
After the game, Digby told his team that most teams have three or four players that can change a game, but he said Newton has 12 players that could change a game.
“It’s great,” Digby said. “These kids worked hard for three weeks. When we came in this tournament nobody was talking about us. That was a chip on our shoulder. We’re Newton’s defending champions.”
“We’re not as strong as we were last year, fast as we were last year. We don’t have the pitching or the hitting,” Digby said. “We showed up for these four games and you just saw something different.”
Digby said that in his first practice with the team it was the worst practice he’d ever had. After that practice he
said that they all sat down and had a heart-to-heart. He told them they needed to get better every day, and the team has echoed that sentiment since that day.