The Newton Rams fought off an eight-run fourth inning by the Stephenson Jaguars to hold on for a 14-10 win Friday night in a key region contest at Stephenson.
The win gives Newton a solid hold on fifth place in Region 2-AAAAA and keeps the Rams in a tight race with Westlake for the fourth and final playoff spot.
Friday's win was a familiar tune to which the Rams played, behind strong pitching by Tripp Loftin. The senior left hander held Stephenson in check through the first three innings as Newton built an 11-0 lead on the strength of a nine-run second inning. But it appeared Loftin's effort might go for naught as the Jaguars scored eight times in the fourth, primarily due to four errors in the inning.
However, unlike earlier games the Rams were able to regroup and hold off the Jaguars over the last three innings to seal the win.
Newton has now won back-to-back games after losing four straight.
"Today we had a similar mishap like we had previously in the Archer and Alcovy games," Newton coach Vincent Byams said. This was a test of our character. We gave up the big inning with errors and mistakes - we really gave away that inning. But this time instead of folding up and giving away the game, we gave a good effort and finished with heart."
Jeremy Laguins started off the Rams against Stephenson with a walk but was picked off first. With two outs, Ryan McCranie singled and reached second as the Jaguar left fielder failed to field the hit cleanly. Allen Bowen delivered a single to drive in the first Ram run.
The Rams broke it open, seemingly, in the top of the third. Tristan McInerny led off with a single up the middle. Laguins laid down a sacrifice bunt, but reached base as the throw to first went wild. Loftin walked and McCranie was intentionally walked, peculiarly after a one strike count, to load the bases.
Bowen ruined Stephenson's strategy with a bases-clearing triple. Later in the inning with two runners on, Zack Sullivan (just returning to the lineup from recurring back problems) smashed a three-run homer over the left-field foul pole. Loftin doubled home the final run of the nine-run inning and the Rams led 10-0.
"Zack Sullivan came off injured reserve and delivered a huge three-run homer for us," Byams said. "And A.B.
(Allen Bowen) had a big three-run triple. Today, putting double-digit runs on the board, we had really good situational hitting."
However, after adding an eleventh run in the top of the fourth, the Rams looked on the verge of folding in the bottom of the inning. Loftin got the first hitter on a strikeout, but then an error put a runner on first.
Loftin then yielded two walks and two hits, but one of the runners was cut down at the plate on an excellent throw from Sherman Graves to McCranie, who held his ground for the collision at home. But three more errors helped bring the Jaguars back to within 11-8.
In the top of the fifth, Laguins doubled and later scored on a Bowen single. The Rams took a 12-8 lead into the bottom of the fifth. Loftin ran out of gas after recording the first out and left with two runners on base. McCranie came on in relief and got out of the inning with only one unearned run scoring. The Rams picked up two additional insurance runs in the top of the seventh on two errors by the Jaguars. McCranie closed out the game, giving up one meaningless run on a fielder's choice as the Rams escaped with the victory.
"Tripp pitched an excellent game and gave up only one earned run, I think," Byams said. "And McCranie came in and closed it out for us."
The win improved the Rams record to 4-5 in region 2-AAAAA and 8-10 overall. Stephenson fell to 2-6 in the region. Newton has next week off before hosting a non-region double-header on Saturday. Region play resumes on April 10 at Newnan.
"If we can come back after spring break and win against Newnan and Westlake and take care of business against Langston-Hughes, we will be in good position," Byams said. "Our team can't coast. We took care of business this week, but we have to take it day by day."