The Newton Rams varsity baseball team hosted Lithonia Saturday in the program’s “Grand Opening Day” baseball game, defeating the Bulldogs 4-2 in a game that was powered by the dominant pitching of starter Daniel Croom.
Croom allowed just one hit and five base runners while striking out 16 batters in the win, putting together one of the Rams’ best performances on the mound in their early season start.
“It was amazing and I was taken aback by it a bit,” Rams coach Andre Byrd said. “He had been struggling at the plate, and I had a discussion with him and said, ‘If you can’t get on the plate, let’s get it done on the hill.’”
Croom began his day by striking out the first batter he faced. However, after walking Justin Wiggins, Croom surrendered his first and only hit of the game, a double by Rico Bruten. Wiggins rounded the bases on the hit, scoring the first run of the game for a 1-0 Lithonia lead.
The Bulldogs second run of the inning, and last run of the game, came after Bruten scored on a wild pitch. Croom finished the inning strong by forcing Leonard Simmons into a ground out, and that was followed by a strikeout of Je’Quon Webb.
The Bulldogs sent Malcolm McGee to the mound as their starter, and he began the game looking strong as well. McGee struck out his first batter and took down his next two, ending a scoreless frame for the Rams.
In the second inning, Croom’'s dominant day began. He struck out all three batters he faced with a combination of off-speed pitches and fastballs.
“I feel great about how I threw the fastball and off-speed pitches today,” Croom said. “I commanded it well and it had a lot of break to it. I had been struggling the past couple of games, but I just relied on God. I relied on my fastball and (my) curving ball was working well, too.”
The Rams began their half of the inning in good fashion offensively. A trio of hits from Kenny Glover, Tristan McInerny and Alex Johnson helped the Rams score three runs and take the lead in the game. Glover scored on a double that was hit by McInerny, Johnson hit a single plating McInerny, and pinch runner Phillip Rowe scored on a wild pitch.
Croom began the third inning by striking out the first batter of the inning. McGee advanced to first base on an error to give the Bulldogs a base runner, but Croom picked him off on a throw to first, and he took down his third batter as well.
The Rams began the bottom of the third inning in good position to score more runs with their first two batters reaching base. M.J. Boykin forced a walk and stole two bases, and Allen Bowen also forced a walk.
However, the Rams came away empty-handed as three straight outs ended the inning.
Croom struck out the side in the fourth inning, and in the bottom of the fourth, Josh Prince came up with a single, but the Rams were unable to capitalize on it.
The fifth inning was another friendly one for Croom. He struck out the side for the second consecutive inning, while at the plate, Boykin advanced to first base on an error in the bottom of the fifth, stole another base and scored on a sac-fly from Glover.
Boykin’s score was the last of the game for Newton, giving the Rams a 4-2 lead.
Croom began the sixth inning by throwing a strikeout, but he walked his next batter and put another on base after hitting him with a pitch. But despite the two base runners with only one out, Croom remained calm and took down the next two batters on a fly-out and pop-up to get out of the jam.
The Rams sent Croom out to the mound for the seventh inning, hoping he could finish what he started. He struck out his first batter and took down his second on a groundout, but got in another jam. Croom walked his next batter, and started out with a 2-1 count on the next, but he finished him off with a strikeout for the win.
McGee pitched six innings for the Bulldogs and only allowed five hits, but also allowed four runs in the loss.
The Rams return to game action today at home against Stephenson at 5:30 p.m.