It took a few innings for the Newton varsity baseball team’s offense to get moving Friday night on the road at Druid Hills, but the Rams clawed their way to an 8-5 victory over the Red Devils, remaining atop Region 2-AAAAAA.
Starting pitcher Daniel Croom gave up four runs on a pair of hits in the opening frame, but didn’t allow another Druid Hill base runner to touch home over his final five innings, picking up the win on the mound. Croom threw six complete innings, giving up three earned runs on four hits and four walks.
While Croom struggled early, hits teammate’s bats picked him up in the waning innings. Newton strung together four runs on two hits over the final three innings, breaking open a deadlocked contest in the top of the fifth inning.
The Rams managed to push a pair of runs across the plate in the top of the inning, taking a 6-4 lead that they never relinquished after trailing 4-1 in the opening frame.
Newton coach Andre Byrd said that the Rams have begun to expect to win and it’s beginning to pay dividends.
“What the kids are starting to realize is that winning is becoming a habit,” Byrd said. “Belief is a big part of baseball and our guys never feel like they’re out of it. That’s something the coaching staff and I have been trying to instill in them since day one.
“I’m shocked that they’ve picked up on it as quickly as they have in year one,” he said. “We just come out and expect to win. When we went down 4-1, the guys knew the ball game wasn’t over and they stayed up and competed.”
Trailing by three runs entering the top of the third inning, the Rams began their comeback, evening the score with a trio of runs in the frame.
Mason Calloway started the rally with a one-out single to left field and before M.J. Boykin could receive his second pitch during the Rams’ next at-bat, Calloway had reached third on a Red Devils’ pick-off throwing error and crossed home on a passed ball, bringing the Rams within 4-2 of Druid Hills.
Boykin, who finished 2-for-2 with a pair of singles, reached on a walk, the first of back-to-back-to-back free passes for the Rams, loading the bases with just one gone. Third baseman Shawn Guckenberger knocked a grounder back to the pitcher, who sent Boykin back to the dugout on the force at home, but Newton’s threat wasn’t over yet.
With two down in the inning, catcher Alex Johnson connected on a single that sailed into left field, bringing in a pair of runs and evening the score 4-4.
Newton was unable to bring another run in during the inning, but in the top of the fifth, the Red Devils’ control issues came back to haunt them again. Druid Hills’ starter Austin Ledet led off the frame with consecutive walks to Boykin and Croom, and the dynamic duo made the Red Devils pay.
Ledet tried to catch Newton’s Victor Medina, who was in to pinch run for Croom, off the bag with a pick-off attempt, but Ledet’s throw sailed past the bag. The errant throw gave Boykin an opportunity to score, and the senior reached home safely, giving Newton a 5-4 lead. Medina reached third on the pick-off attempt and touched the plate just a few pitches later on a Druid Hills’ passed ball.
Holding a 6-4 lead, Newton added a pair of runs in the seventh on a Druid Hills’ fielding error, extending its lead to 8-4.
The Red Devils tried to rally in the bottom of the frame, plating a run on a Newton passed ball, but Johnson shut Druid Hills down in relief, forcing a pair of grounders and a fly ball that ended the Red Devils’ comeback bid.
Byrd said that the choice of sticking with Croom after the shaky start was an easy one.
“I know my guys,” Byrd said. “I could tell by the way Daniel was throwing in the first inning that he wasn’t warm yet. He had to work through it. When you know what your guys have, you can wait it out. He shut the door from the second inning on out.”
Ledet received the loss on the mound for the Red Devils, surrendering six runs in five innings on five hits and five walks.
Newton’s opening run came in the first inning on an Allen Bowen seeing-eye single that found its way between the Red Devils’ third baseman and shortstop, but Druid Hills answered with four runs in the bottom half of the inning.
The Red Devils tied the game after wreaking havoc on the base path. Lead-off batter Emaues Thomas reached on a walk and then stole second, touching home after attempting to steal third. As Thomas headed to third, the Rams’ throw down to the base missed its mark, allowing Thomas to even the score.
The Red Devils took the lead on a Terrance Young sac-fly before extending their lead to 4-1 on a Newton fielding error and a DaJour Maddox base knock.
Newton returns to the diamond Tuesday at home against in-county rival Alcovy at 5:30 p.m.