There isn’t a better way to finish off the baseball season and prepare for the playoffs than a series against your rival. The third and fourth seed from Region 2-AAAAAA, Newton and Rockdale, started a three-game series on Tuesday, and finished up on Thursday. Though Newton lost the series after losses in the first two games, the Rams took the final regular season game of the season and sealed the three-seed with a 4-0 win over Rockdale, Thursday evening.
It was not the series that Newton expected though they took the game three win. Going into the series, Newton was on an eight-game winning streak and Rockdale was on a six-game losing streak. Both teams were trending in opposite ways. But the desperation for a win showed for the Bulldogs and had a positive effect.
“It was very important for us to come in here and at least give them a good game,” Rockdale Head Coach Jonathan Brewer said.
Rockdale defeated Newton soundly in the first two games with a combined score of 17 runs for the Bulldogs and just five runs for Newton. Rockdale’s Jeff Sweat put up a solid outing in the first game to give Rockdale a 7-1 victory.
Sweat pitched a complete game giving up only one run, eight hits and two walks. Newton helped Rockdale in the process of the game with four of Rockdale’s runs being unearned. C.J. Clark and Vincent Johnson each had base-hits that brought runners in for Rockdale. Newton’s single run came on a solo home-run by Auliver Astin.
In the next game Rockdale kept the magic going on that Wednesday evening as it was Senior Night for the Bulldogs. It seemed that Newton didn’t bring the bats to compete in game one, but in game two it seemed they didn’t bring their gloves. Committing errors on the defensive end leading to a convincing 10-4 win for Rockdale. At this point, Rockdale had all the momentum in the series and were on the cusp of sweeping their region rivals.
On Thursday evening, it was Senior Night for Newton and it was the third game of the series that had serious playoff implications. The winner of game three would clinch the No. 3 seed, leaving the loser to play the top-seed of Region 1-AAAAAA in the first round of the state playoffs. That team is Tift County (20-4, 9-2) currently ranked the No. 14 team in the state according to MaxPreps. Hence, both teams had a lot to play for.
Newton put their lefty Mason Calloway on the mound, who may be the Rams best all-around player, to try and steal a win to finish off the season. Calloway took on the challenge and responded like any great player would. To say he dominated would be an understatement. Pitched a full game giving up only two hits and two walks, and did it while only throwing 84 pitches.
“He [Calloway] is a bulldog,” Newton Head Coach Andre Byrd said. “Mason is the best player in the state if you ask me.”
Since it was Senior Night, Newton got a huge boost from one of their only four seniors. First baseman Joshua Howard went 2-3 bringing in two runs on his base hits. In the bottom of the third after a single and stolen-base from Augustus Murray, Howard opened up the scoring with a RBI-single to give Newton an early 1-0 lead.
Newton kept that lead until the fifth inning where Murray hit another single to lead off the inning. Rockdale then walked Calloway and Alex Johnson. Howard came up to the batter’s box with the bases loaded and one out. He hit the ball in a gap between first and second base that scored another run for Newton. Immediately after, Auliver Astin had a base-hit that brought in two more runs to seal the game for the Rams.
The series was great for both teams, and positives effects can be taken away by each side. For Rockdale, they got out of their funk with that six-game losing streak, and now can have some confidence going into the playoffs as they take on Tift County.
“I have been a part of upsets in the playoffs on both sides,” Brewer explained. “We’re just going to have to fight and battle and do the best we can.”
For Newton, they were humbled by losing two games after being on an eight-game winning streak of their own. They now know that it’s going to take maximum effort and focus to win the playoffs as they take on Lee County.
“Finishing at three [third seed] with this young group is very important,” Byrd said. “Because at the beginning of the season, I was just hoping I can get them in.”