CONYERS, Ga. — Jacob Redman’s timing was impeccable.
And we’re not just talking about his relief pitching performance that helped Newton close out a 10-8 win over Region 8-AAAAAAA rival Rockdale Friday night, giving the Rams a 2-1 series win and a still-beating postseason pulse.
Redman delivered perhaps the statement of the night right as a Rockdale coach walked by the visiting Newton dugout.
“We got tired of losing to Rockdale,” Redman said. Then spotting one of the Bulldogs’ coaches, he laughed and said, “No offense.”
None taken. Surely the Rockdale coach understood.
After all, the Bulldogs had swept Newton for the past two straight seasons. But Friday night, with playoff aspirations on the line and bats that stayed hot throughout the entire three-game series, Newton served the rest of the region notice that it would not go quietly. And Redman couldn’t think of a better opponent to win against in such a high-stakes situation.
“I’ve always been thinking that it we could beat Rockdale at least once in our lives, it would really be great,” Redman said. “To do it like we did tonight was even better.”
Hot bats for the Rams had been the story throughout the entire Rockdale series as Newton plated a total of 26 runs through the three games. And those bats stayed smokey Friday night.
Newton started fast in the first inning lead after Jamal Boykin base hit started things off. Christian Davis followed it up with an RBI double to bring Boykin home. Davis would later score himself to give the Rams a 2-0 advantage after the top of the first.
In the second, the Rams kept slugging as Khalil Wilcox knocked a triple, followed by CJ Thomas’s RBI single that plated Wilcox and gave Newton a 3-0 lead after the second.
As the Bulldogs did in Game 1, they came storming back to knot things up at 3-3 in the bottom of the third. It happened when Rockdale’s Brandon Lawrence slapped a triple to left that brought in two runs. Then Rockdale’s next batter, Corbin Shaw, hit a sac fly that scored Lawrence for the tying run.
“We’ve still hold our own fate,” said Newton coach Andre Byrd. “We’ve gotta take two from South Gwinnett next week, which is possible. But this is big. I try to downplay it, but it does feel good to beat Rockdale two out of three games.”
Things settled for both teams defensively in a scoreless fourth inning. But Newton exploded in the fifth with three runs — the later coming on a Christian Murray two-run double that scored Parker Kauffman and Blake Wilder — both of whom got beaned in two consecutive at-bats.
Rockdale chopped the lead again in the bottom of the frame by adding a pair of runs, but Newton increased its pad in the top of the sixth when Boykin brought in two scores on a fortuitous pop fly that was dropped by a Rockdale infielder.
That error ushered in Thomas and Keelon Tate. Then Christian Davis tripled to push Boykin across, making it 9-5, Newton. Two at-bats later, Wilder would ground out, but the sacrifice single plated Davis, giving Newton its 10th and final run.
“Coach (Byrd) always tells us to run those pop flies out because you never know,” Boykin said. “He tells us to always give that effort. Respect the game, and the game will give love back to you.”
Rockdale benefited from the same principle in the bottom of the seventh while down 10-6 when Shaw stepped up and smashed Redman’s high change-up over the left field wall for a two-run shot that brought about the game’s final margin.
Redman acknowledged his nerves when Shaw hit that home run, but he also credited his teammates and coaches in helping to calm him down enough to force two of Rockdale’s last three batters to ground out for the game’s final two outs.
“My heart was beating out my chest when he hit that home run — even before he hit it,” Redman said. “I had a whole lot of pressure on me, but I had a whole lot of guys backing me up. They had positive things to say to me. They told me to keep throwing strikes. First pitch strikes, and it just helped me keep going.”
Byrd had nothing but praise for the way Redman stepped up in Game 3 after being pulled in Game 1.
“I can’t say enough about Jacob Redman,” Byrd said. “A lot of good things have been happening this year on the baseball field for him. For one thing, we trust him. He’s a senior. Second of all, looking at Rockdale, they don’t hit lefties well.
“So they didn’t have a lot of success in Game One and he kind of put himself into the trouble he had. So we figured, let him go ahead and jog out there and finish what he started Monday.”
Redman even found success at the plate during the top of the sixth inning when he hit a solid base hit single before Murray popped out to end the inning.
“Jacob doesn’t even practice hitting,” Byrd said, “and he went out there against one of their better guys and hit it right back them.”
Kauffman called Redman one of Newton’s stalwart players throughout the course of the season.
“He’s outstanding,” Kauffman said. “He’s been the most consistent pitcher we’ve had all year, no doubt.”
Now, with South Gwinnett looming next week and the Rams (14-13-1, 6-7) needing to win a pair in that series which begins Monday at home at 5:45 p.m., Newton’s hoping to stay the course for a playoff berth.
Byrd said that while he won’t stress out his bunch about the magnitude of the season finale with South Gwinnett, he knows they understand what’s at stake.
“I got eight seniors who don’t want it to be over with next week,” Byrd said. “We’ll enjoy tonight. I’m sure going to enjoy it tonight, but we’re back to work on Sunday. It’s a big week just like this week was a big week, but we’ll try to keep an even keel.”
Kauffman echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“We knew if we lost (against Rockdale) we were out,” Kauffman said. “But we’re still alive. That was the goal. We started out real slow in region play, but we’ve gotten hot lately. Now we’ve gotta take a couple from South Gwinnett, and then anything can happen once you get in the playoffs.”