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PREP SOFTBALL: Four Newton Lady Rams earn all-region honors
Tyliah HArdeman
Newton Rams junior shortstop Ty'Liyah Hardeman and sophomore pitcher Hayden Pearson should be two key pieces for a program that is on the rise. Photo by Michael Pope.

COVINGTON, Ga. — The Newton softball team capped off its impressive 2019 season with four members earning all-region honors for Region 8-AAAAAAA.

Hayden Pearson, Ty'Liyah Hardeman, Kaitlyn Neely and Kyla Stroud were named to the All-Region team, and head coach Virginia Tucker-Smith could not be more proud of each of these girls. 

"They each definitely play a major part for us all season long," Tucker-Smith said. "Even when they were not doing so well offensively, they picked it up on the other side or vice-versa."

The Lady Rams had a strong showing in a season that was filled with historic firsts, and these four players played a pivotal role in getting this team to new heights. 

Tucker-Smith went into detail how valuable each of these players were to her squad and how each athlete's outstanding play often came with excelling in more than one area. She started by talking about the remarkable play of her junior shortstop.

"Ty is so solid for us at shortstop even though she may have a down year hitting. I think she finished a little over .300," said Tucker-Smith. "You can't find a better shortstop across the region than Ty, and she'll give you 110 percent every game."

There is no telling what the Rams lineup will be next season, but it would not be a surprise to see Hardeman return next year as a senior and take over the leadoff role in the Rams lineup. 

She will have to try to mimic the remarkable job that outfielder Mariah Williams did in that spot in the lineup for the Rams this past season. Tucker-Smith transitioned from Hardeman to her shutdown starting pitcher Pearson, who she believes accounted for 16 of the Rams' 19 wins.

"She had phenomenal games against Archer, in the first time we ever beat them, and she pitched a great game against Grayson as well in that 2-0 game," said Tucker-Smith. "Hayden even hit well, and she stays at the top of our lineup for a reason. She doesn't mind sacrificing or bunting if we need that so she can do a little bit of everything."

Pearson has slowly grown into one of the best pitchers in Newton County, and with Eastside's Kailey Rusk graduating in the spring, Pearson may very well be the best. 

A team is only as good as their pitching, and Pearson's continued improvement should lead to an even more successful season for the Rams next season. Just as important to a pitcher is her catcher, and the Rams Kaitlyn Neely proved to be one of the best in more ways than one.

"Always solid behind the plate. I want to say she wound up with 11 or 12 putouts this year throwing runners out," said Tucker-Smith. "Her bat as well. She had that home run against Mountain View and had several doubles as well."

Last but most certainly not least is the Rams' young freshman Kyla Stroud. Stroud really came on as a dominant hitting force in the late stages of the season and showed just how much promise she has. 

Earlier this year, Tucker-Smith had said that she had been waiting for Stroud's bat to get hot all season, and it was scorching hot after Stroud hit for the cycle in late September and stayed that way until the end. 

"Kyla got off to a really slow start offensively but wound up finishing closer to .500," said Tucker-Smith. "She caught fire at the end, which is what I think she expected all season long to do, but she finally got it going there at the end."

The reoccurring theme among each of these exceptional athletes is that each of their Rams careers will continue next season. Tucker-Smith wanted to give a nod to her astounding senior group and knows replacing the talent that is leaving will be tough. 

However, with such a formidable core group returning, she is excited to see what the future holds and hopes to reach another historic first with this core group of talent next season. 

"Now, don't get me wrong; we're going to miss our seniors. We're going to miss Mariah (Williams) in the outfield. It's hard to find somebody as quick and reads fly balls as well as she does," said Tucker-Smith. "I've got two years left with Hayden, three left with Kyla, and we've got next year with Ty and Kaitlyn Neely, so I'm looking to do even more than we did this year. I'm hoping to surpass 20 wins and do something the program has never done."