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Pitching leads Rockdale over Newton
Newton's Mason Calloway connects with a pitch in the first inning of the Rams' 3-2 loss to Rockdale Tuesday night. - photo by Matt Smith

Rockdale’s Will Hardy threw 5-1/3 innings of no-hit baseball, and Newton committed a costly error Tuesday night, as the Bulldogs edged the Rams 3-2 in a their Region 2A-AAAAAA opener on another cold night at Rockdale Stadium.

“It was a tight 3-2 ballgame – just a good ball game,” Rockdale coach Justin Arrington said. “Will (Hardy) came out and pitched excellent. You give up two runs in a ballgame and you’re going to win a bunch (of them). It just took a while for our offense to come around, but we started hitting and they started falling in.”

Both offenses were lacking early in the chilly atmosphere as they combined for just one hit through three innings – a leadoff single by Rockdale’s Yancey Freeny in the bottom of the first inning off of Rams’ pitcher Kenneth Glover.

The Bulldogs broke the scoring drought in the bottom of the fourth inning, as Malachi Eskin led off with a line-drive single that got past Newton left fielder Mason Calloway, allowing Eskin to advance to third base on a two-base error. The error proved costly two batters later, as first baseman Tyler Paige stroked a single that brought in Eskin and gave Rockdale a 1-0 lead.

After Hardy retired the Rams in order in the fifth inning — and faced just one batter over the minimum due to a throwing error by Eskin in the second inning — the Bulldogs added two more runs in their half of the fifth.

Catcher Davis Foster drew a one-out walk, and advanced to second on a wild pitch by Glover. Freeney grounded out, but Hardy coaxed another walk to put runners at first and second with two out. Eskin, who went 2-3 and had two RBI, atoned for his earlier error and smacked a double that brought in Foster and Hardy to give Rockdale a 3-0 lead after five innings.

Newton wasn’t about to give up, though. After Hardy struck out Rams catcher Alex Johnson, Newton shortstop Daniel Croom hit a single and stole second base. Rams centerfielder M.J. Boykin singled, Croom moved to third, and the Rams had runners on the corners with one out.

To congratulations from his teammates, and cheers from the sparse crowd, Hardy was relieved by Jeff Sweat. Croom scored on a Calloway ground-out to shortstop after the pitching change, and Boykin scored on third baseman Zack Walker’s throwing error to get Newton within one run, 3-2.

Designated hitter Shawn Guckenberger singled, putting runners on first and second. But, Sweat got right fielder Auliver Astin to pop out to first to end the threat.

Newton had one last chance in the seventh inning as first baseman Joshua Prince singled with one out and moved to second on a Sweat wild pitch. Johnson, the next batter, drew a walk, and both runners advanced on Croom’s groundout to first. But, Sweat struck out Boykin on three straight pitches to end the threat and seal the victory for the Bulldogs.

Rams coach Andre Byrd lamented the defensive lapses and lack of timely hitting.

 “When you get no-hit for the first five innings, and you give them three runs, the way we’re hitting the ball right now we can’t give anybody anything,” Byrd said. “You take away the two errors we made to give them two runs and we win the ballgame 2-1. We've got to correct those mistakes. The way we are offensively, right now, we cannot make any mistakes, and mistakes cost us the ballgame.”