Down 5-1 in the state championship game in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Newton All-Stars (14U) had two choices: lose the game, forcing a second and final game for the title or win the game and claim the state championship.
The first choice wasn’t an option.
“I was thinking who are we gonna pitch in the next game? Who have we got available? Who will best give us the opportunity to win the next game and that’s kind of where I was at,” Tim Howard, Newton County All-Stars coach, recall of his mindset down 5-1 in the bottom of the seventh. “Hopefully, with the back of my mind thinking, well maybe we can pick up four runs here, but I really was thinking about what we were gonna do.”
Netwon had been in a nailbiter just the day before, defeating West Georgia on a walk-off double 3-2, so this was nothing new to them. The opposing team, Columbia, would have to beat the All-Stars twice, but Newton County didn’t let that hinder them from pouring in 100 percent.
Howard was offering his suggestions to the team manager, Greg Shirley before Logan Brake, Cory Borg and Mike Mathison loaded the bases from third to first respectively. Tim Howard was all in at that point. Carson Howard fired a grounder to third that was bobbled and allowed Brake to score with the bases loaded yet again.
Erik Shirley stepped to the plate and with confidence, hit a triple to center to clear the bases and tie the game at 5-5. Unfortunately, Newton County couldn’t muster another magical run, and the game went into extra innings.
Columbia responded mightily, scoring three runs in the top of the eighth inning and effectively putting all the pressure back on Newton.
“When they came back and went up three again I thought, ‘Well, it’s just not meant to be in this game,’” Tim Howard said.
“They were coming back in, their heads were down,” Howard recalls. “Greg said, ‘We did it last inning, we can do it this inning. We’re starting off with the same batters. Let’s take it one at a time, one batter at a time. Nobody try to power it up, hit homeruns. Let’s just get people on, be disciplined at the plate, don’t swing at bad pitches and make ‘em throw strikes.’ Once that first batter got on base then the kids would really get involved and think, ‘Oh, I’ve got a shot at this.’”
Newton followed suit with almost an exact replica of results from the seventh inning. Brake and Borg walked while Mathison was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Carson Howard walked and scored Brake and Erik Shirley followed that up with a sac fly to center to score Borg. Blake Jordan would knot the game up at 8-8 with another sac fly that scored Mathison.
The teams went scoreless for another three innings. In the 11th inning Columbia took another lead, this time by two runs.
Erik Shirley started off the bottom of the 11th with a single to center. McClain Allgood followed with a shot to second and an error meant runners at the corners. McClain got caught stealing second so Shirley was left alone at third. Ryan Shirley came up to the plate and hit an RBI single to score Erik.
Ryan was caught stealing soon after and with two outs down one, hope seemed dim. Aron Cox watched four balls go by to put a runner on first. Blake Wilder followed with a triple to tie the game before Brake recorded the last out of the inning.
The 12th inning would be the final inning. Columbia blasted a homerun across the fence to go up by one run.
Borg opened the inning with a double and Mathison followed it up with a single, yet again putting runners at the corners for Newton County. Carson Howard struck out, giving the All-Stars their first out of the inning. Erik Shirley would be walked intentionally, loading the bases for Allgood.
Here’s where things got a little crazy. Allgood fires a shot to third, who throws it home, but it gets misplayed by the catcher allowing Borg to score and tie the game. As the ball bounces past the catcher, Mathison makes a run for home from third base. The throw was too late and Mathison crossed the threshold, winning the game for Newton.
“Mike is one of those special players,” Tim Howard said. “He plays the outfield for us, he’s got quick hands, he’s very fast, very quiet, a smart baserunner and I knew if we could get him on that we could score him from second base on anything in the outfield. He made some great plays in left field for us to save some runs, so those things add up as well.”
“Every inning was nerveracking, very nerveracking,” Howard added.
After everything the team went through, Howard felt destiny was on their side. McClain, who had been on the bench for most of the game got his chance because of an injury to another player. He was under a lot of pressure with runners in scoring position and just one out. Howard told him to make a play and he did.
Howard says that the win was a group effort and that everybody contributed. In the beginning Howard and manager Greg Shirley felt if they could get all of the kids to play they would have a special team. They got all of the kids they wanted and with them came good pitching and speed. Under Greg, the All-Stars became aggressive on the bases, they even run-ruled some teams.
The team now get the opportunity to compete in the World Series.
“We know that we’re taking a good team to the world series, but we also know that every other state is as well,” Tim Howard said. “We’ll have to play our best ball, we’re gonna have to pitch well, but we’re gonna have to hit well. Every team’s gonna have good pitching and we’re gonna have to play defense and hit the ball well. This is a special team.”
“We feel like we’ve got a good team. We can compete with anybody and we’re just gonna keep playing ball like we did in the state tournament,” Tim Howard added. “I think the kids know now that they can play ball with anybody even if they get down. It’s no problem, we’ll just do like we’ve always done.”