COVINGTON, Ga. — On March 13, 2020, Newton traveled to Rockdale County for the 10th game of its season.
The Rams entered the matchup red hot, riding the high of an offensive explosion that had produced 65 runs over the course of a four-game winning streak. They continued putting bats on balls as they boat-raced the Bulldogs, 18-2, to move to 6-4 on the year.
Newton’s offense had hit its stride. The pitching was coming into its own. It appeared as though the Rams were gelling and poised for a memorable campaign.
But just as quickly as the season took off, it suddenly came to a screeching halt.
The Rams never returned to the diamond after torching Rockdale County that Friday afternoon. What began as a two-week hiatus as a preventative measure due to COVID-19 turned into three weeks, a month and, eventually, the season.
“It almost seemed like a horrible dream you were going to wake up from and we were going to have baseball again. But as the days and weeks went on, it kind of started to set in that we may not come back,” Newton head coach Darrell Helm said. “It was heartbreaking for our seniors; a group of guys I’d coached since they were freshmen. A lot of different emotions were felt, but the biggest was just disappointment.
“We had everything going our way and somebody snatched the rug out from under us.”
A lost season left nothing but speculation about what could’ve been, but Helm and his staff are choosing not to dwell on that. Instead, they’ve shifted their focus toward what can be obtained in 2021.
The Rams return a plethora of talent from last year’s squad. The pitching staff will be forced to replace the production of Blake Peacock, Brody Landreau and Logan Arwood, but a formidable trio has risen in their place. Leading the way will be lanky left-hander Jevarra Martin Jr., who enters his junior year as the undoubted ace of the staff.
“Jevarra’s going to be the anchor,” Helm said. “If he can come in, locate and really dominate the way we know he can, I think we’re going to have a really good chance in the region — and even in non-region play — to take some games that people really think we shouldn’t.”
Listed at 6 feet, 5 inches, and weighing 220 pounds, Martin has the frame — and work ethic — to blossom into one of the brightest pitchers in the area. He’ll be joined on staff by senior southpaw Kaleel King, who relies heavily on his fastball movement and off-speed pitches, and senior right-hander Will Standard, who’s been a reliable arm throughout his career.
Behind the mound, the Rams are seeking to fill the holes of departed shortstop Israel Dixon and centerfielder Garrett Mitchell. Replacing a pair of team captains is no small task, but with six other defensive starters set to reprise their roles this spring, Newton feels confident about the chemistry of the team.
“The major core of what we’re doing is back this year,” Helm said. “I’m excited about it.”
Newton’s path to the postseason won’t be easy. As a result of region realignment, they’ll be brushing shoulders with three preseason top-10 teams in Parkview (No. 2), Brookwood (No. 3) and Grayson (No. 6) in Region 4-AAAAAAA. But they believe if they stick to their brand of baseball, there’s no reason they can’t beat one of those three — or South Gwinnett — out for a playoff berth.
“We know they’re good teams. We know they’re going to come out here with talent that we’ve never seen,” Helm said. “Really, what we’ve got to do with our kids is not necessarily focus so much on the ranking or the name, but just just go out there and execute our style of baseball.”
Newton is scheduled to open the 2021 season at home against Mount Paran Christian on Monday, Feb. 15, at 5:30 p.m. They’ll then travel to Jasper County on Wednesday, Jan. 17, before returning home Saturday, Feb. 20, to host Prince Avenue Christian and Stockbridge for Diamond Day.