COVINGTON, Ga. — As hot as Newton’s bats were through three games against Rockdale last night, they were just as cold — about as cold as the stiff win that permeated the field of play in the Rams’ 5-0 loss to Region 8-AAAAAA foe South Gwinnett.
In what was pretty much a pitcher’s dual up until the fifth inning, Newton (13-14-1, 5-8) played the Comets evenly, except for a stretch in that pivotal fifth frame where four straight South Gwinnett batters got base hits including a back-breaking grand slam home run by Mark Davis.
“One inning beat us,” said Newton coach Andre Byrd. “They had that one inning. We made a mistake over the plate and (Davis) caught it.”
That mistake came from sophomore pitcher CJ Davis who let one hang over the middle just fat enough for Davis to smash it into the wind over the left field fence.
Prior to that, South Gwinnett’s Corey Farrow popped up an 0-2 pitch that got caught up in the wind and fell between three Newton players to usher in the first run of the game.
All told, the five runs scored in the fifth inning were all South Gwinnett (18-10, 8-5) needed in order to bag game one of a three-game regular season finale series that will determine Newton’s postseason fate.
Newton was held scoreless for the first time since dropping a 1-0 decision to Shiloh back on March 26. The Rams had six hits, but left six on base and committed four errors Monday against the Comets. But despite the performance, Byrd maintained confidence in his team’s chances of doing what it needs to do for a playoff berth.
“We’ll be fine,” Byrd said. “If all we gotta do is get one game and we’ve got three times to get it against South Gwinnett, I think we can make that happen. I really think we can win both games.”
The first game of the South Gwinnett series looked like an almost perfect reversal of what Newton did against Rockdale last week when it scored 26 runs and basically out-slugged the Bulldogs on the way to a 2-1 series win.
Against Rockdale, Byrd pushed a plate strategy where he encouraged his batters to be aggressive against the Bulldogs’ tendencies to throw first-pitch strikes. But against South Gwinnett pitcher Corey Farrow, Newton saw a steady diet of off-speed pitches, including a nice curve that stymied the Rams at times.
South Gwinnett’s game plan didn’t really take Byrd by surprise.
“I know the key,” Byrd said. “I know us. I’m pretty sure (South Gwinnett) got the scouting report from somebody. We saw a lot of curve balls today because of the way we attacked it last week, and toward the end of the game, we started making adjustments. We started hitting the ball hard in the sixth and seventh inning.”
Byrd said he doesn’t expect South Gwinnett to make many changes, especially with another solid hurler in senior Jackson McCarthy sure to make an appearance at some point in the next two games.
McCarthy, a senior, tossed a no-hitter while striking out eight in South Gwinnett’s 5-0 region win over Shiloh last Friday. But the Newton coach holds fast to the thought that his bunch will be ready when they travel to Snellville for Game 2 Wednesday.
“If they’re gonna throw us curve balls, I don’t mind (our guys) going up there and looking for it.” he said. “I don’t think they’re gonna change their approach. If they do throw the fast ball they won’t win the ballgame.”
First pitch for Wednesday’s game is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. Both teams will come back to Newton on Friday to finish the series on the Rams’ senior night in a game that could mean either a postseason berth or the end of Newton’s season.
If Rockdale wins one in its three-game stint with Grayson, it’ll force Newton to win two to qualify for the playoffs. But if Grayson wins all three, Newton will need only one win against the Comets.
Byrd said he’s looking for better weather conditions in the final two games. Wednesday’s high is expected to be 73 degrees, with a high close to 70 on Thursday with much calmer winds.
“The kids told me the bats got hot last week because it was warm weather,” Byrd joked. “Hopefully it’ll be warm weather Wednesday or Thursday, and hopefully we’ll get both of those.”