Currently on a four-game winning streak, Newton baseball finds itself one game below .500 at 8-9 overall with a 5-4 region record. The Rams’ current streak has them holding down the No. 4 spot in the region standings with a series to play against Lovejoy (1-12, 0-9 Region 2-AAAAAA) – last in the standings – and Rockdale (9-9, 6-3 Region 2-AAAAAA).
The Bulldogs still have to play the No. 2 seed, Lakeside, and they will face Newton in the final series of the regular season. That series could determine whether the Rams are a No. 3 seed or a No. 4 seed in the state playoffs.
“It was big,” Andre Byrd, Rams’ head coach, said speaking on the series sweep of Alcovy. “I don’t know if the kids knew how it big it was standings-wise. Reeling this one off almost just about sealed the deal for us [to get into the playoffs]. We know we still got games to play, but the team we are if we take care of our business like we’re supposed to against those teams – Rockdale and Lovejoy – we’ll be fine. And then if we get a little help from somebody else so we can try to climb back and sneak back in the No. 1 or 2 spot.”
The Rams are only on a four-game streak, but that four could have been six if a few plays go differently in Newton’s series against Tucker last week. The Rams lost the series 2-1 but lost the first two games by one run before crushing Tucker 8-1 in the final game at home.
Byrd had mentioned last week that his team hadn’t been swinging the bat like they could have. In the sweep against Alcovy, the Rams’ turned that around and went on a scoring spree. Newton scored just 19 runs in its first five region games, but the Rams have scored 41 runs in their past four games.
Scoring 40-plus runs every four games isn’t a trend that’s likely to continue, but the Rams are starting to listen to their coach and that’s going to be the determining factor of how far they can go.
“I take pride in getting real personal with the kids and letting them understand that first of all, I care about ‘em and every decision I make is not a personal decision it’s just to get better as a team. They’re starting to see that the decisions that I am making are actually working,” Byrd said.
Byrd credited Alcovy’s team for being good, despite their record and said their record doesn’t say how well they can hit the ball. The Rams showed their ability to play smart baseball and string runs together in one inning in the series against the Tigers.
Listening to Byrd is paying off for the Rams. Newton scored three runs or more in one inning at least five times in their series against Alcovy – they did it twice while trailing.
Newton isn’t doing anything new, but they’re taking advantage of defensive errors and being smart at the plate by not chasing strikes and taking walks when they’re given. The power hitting and the Rams’ ability to get hits when runners are in scoring position also helped lift them to a series win.
With two outs up three, Mason Calloway had an infield grand slam in the second game that pushed Newton’s lead to 9-2 and pretty much sealed the deal for the Rams in the bottom of the sixth. Alex Johnson, who had a monster third game for the Rams, hit a three-run homer with Newton up 7-6 to give the Rams a 10-6 victory.
“These guys know each other. There’s been a lot of smack talking,” Byrd said. “He (Johnson) actually hit the second homerun off his best friend so I can imagine they’ve probably been throwing to each other for years and the ball looked fat and he just stroked it. He’s been working hard, man, and he needed a game like this to kind of get out of the funk. Everybody’s been hitting, he’s been catching and pitching pretty good, but he hadn’t been hitting the ball. So, to do it against a cross-town rival and his best friend it was good for him.”
Spring break is next week and Newton doesn’t play until Friday, when they travel to Decatur to play Southwest Dekalb at noon. If the Rams can continue to score when they have the chance they could be an exciting team to watch come playoff time.