LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga - The Newton Rams were not themselves in their first-round matchup against the Mountain View Bears in the AAAAAAA playoffs, and it led to a disappointing early exit from the tournament for the visiting Rams.
With the talent on this Rams softball team, This outcome was not at all imagined by any of the Rams or their fans, but especially for head coach Virginia Tucker-Smith.
"I would have never ever in a million years thought we would come up here and get run-ruled in two games," said Tucker-Smith. "No doubt in my mind we could have played with this team."
The Rams kept pace with the Bears for the majority of both games, but a few big innings in both game one and game two ultimately led to their downfall.
In game one, the Rams kept the game close until the final inning of play, which happened to be the fifth do to the Bears offense exploding to run-rule the Rams.
The Bears opened up the scoring in the bottom half of the second after earning back-to-back walks with two outs in the inning. A single to center would bring in one run to score, but the Rams would limit the damage to one in that inning.
The Bears would go on to score a run in both the following innings without an answer from the Rams offense. The Rams offense would finally get on the board in the top of the fifth with a solo shot from catcher Kaitlyn Neely that sailed well over the left-field fence.
With the Bears leading 3-1 after the top half of the fifth, it seemed the Rams might be able to mount a comeback. However, the Bears quickly shut the door on that possibility with a six-run bottom of the fifth.
The Rams sophomore pitcher Hayden Pearson did an excellent job of keeping the Bears at bay and keeping the Rams in the game until the six-run fifth inning. Lack of run support did not help, and with only two hits in game one, it made runs very hard to come by for the visiting Rams.
The Rams offense would continue to struggle in the second game against the Bears, and forcing a game three looked bleak. The Rams could only muster two hits at the plate in game two, which added up to a combined four hits across both games.
The Rams seemed to be more locked-in and have made some adjustments at the plate in the second game against the Bears pitching, but some outstanding plays in the field turned would-be hits into outs.
Coach Tucker-Smith knew that the chances to make those adjustments would be limited and could see her team start to get down on themselves after some early struggles.
"I told them you might not get three, four, five at-bats a game to adjust; you're going to have to adjust in that first at-bat, and we just couldn't get adjusted that first game," said Tucker-Smith. "You could just see it on faces that we were already disappointed in at-bats or how we played in the field."
The Bears offense put up the required eight runs to end the second game early in six innings of play.
Rams players and coaches alike were in tears after a heartbreaking way to end their season, which was filled with history made by a special group of players.
One player that has been a perfect representation of doing everything for the team was senior center fielder Mariah Williams. She seemed to have been dinged up after a few tough hit-by-pitches and a play in the outfield that required the training staff's attention.
Williams did not let these injuries deter her as she continued to lay it all on the line and do everything she could to help inch her team. Having coached Williams since her early years, these efforts did not surprise coach Tucker-Smith.
"Mariah's always been like that. She wanted this really bad because it's something the program hasn't had, and she knew as well as the rest of us did that this team was capable of that," said Tucker-Smith. "She has everything to be proud of, and she's going to be missed in the outfield for sure. She's going to be hard to replace, for sure."
As tough of an ending as this may be for the Rams, they do have plenty to be proud of in yet another season that shows the progression of this program. Replacing seniors like Williams will be tough, but this team has a very bright future, with some of their young stars returning next season.
It can be fully expected for this Rams team to continue to rise under Tucker-Smith's tutelage, and she certainly has that hope for her team next season.
"In order to move past this first round, we are going to have to play that type of ball next year," said Tucker-Smith. "Hopefully, my underclassmen get it, and there's enough want from them to get us past this hump that always seems to get us."