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SOFTBALL: With next-level talent, Newton ready to blossom in Tucker-Smith's second year
Kyla Stroud
Freshman Kyla Stroud, already committed to Auburn, is one of the young talents that has Newton softball coach Virginia Tucker-Smith optimistic about the 2019 season. -photo by Tyler Williams

COVINGTON, Ga. — While the weather may not feel like it, the start of the 2019-20 school year — and the accompanying fall sports season — is just a few weeks away.

And while many eyes are going to be on how Newton County’s three GHSA football programs perform, there promises to be just as much intrigue on the softball field as all three county GHSA schools are primed to field competitive squads for the 2019 campaign. 

The Newton Lady Rams, however, might be the most interesting team to watch this season. 

Over the past three years, the Lady Rams have showed continued improvement, winning more regular season games than the previous year each time, and head coach Virginia Tucker-Smith — entering her second year of her second stint at the program’s helm — expects more of the same, thanks to what she’s seen from what she calls a great summer workout program. 

“We’ve been pleasantly surprised,” she said in regard to the turnout for summer workouts. “We have 29 girls between the two squads, and we’ve had at least 20 at workouts, which isn’t mandatory.”

Tucker-Smith noted that their primary focus for the summer was working on game situations and getting stronger in the weight room — something they started back in February. 

The coach believes that these workouts, while not mandatory, will have a tremendous impact on how much success the team generates this season. 

In Tucker-Smith’s first year back with the program, the Lady Rams flaunted a 15-9 2018 record and finished third in the always-tough Region 8-AAAAAAA, behind Archer and Grayson, before being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by South Forsyth. 

Now for Tucker-Smith, it’s all about raising the bar, and moving further than the year before. 

“Everything we’ve said we would like is attainable,” she said. “We definitely want to finish higher in the region, like top two if not one. We have talent to do it. But we also want to make it past that first round of state.”

She also believes that with each season’s progress, more eyes are focusing on the Lady Rams' softball program, which is driving more talent to their high school. 

“This school is just as good as the other schools in the county now,” she said. “Talent wise, we’re definitely growing here as well.”

Newton flashed some next-level talent last season with players such as then-freshman Hayden Pearson who took home Co-Freshman of the Year honors last year along with Eastside’s Natalie Ray. Ty’Liyah Hardeman also had an impressive sophomore season last year, batting .373 with 17 RBI, two home runs and 26 stolen bases.  

But beyond the return of several promising underclassmen and some solid senior leadership, all eyes will likely be on freshman phenom Kyla Stroud who comes over from Cousins Middle School already committed to play SEC softball at Auburn. 

“We have talent at every level,”Tucker-Smith said. “I’m just excited all the way around about the level of talent and commitment all the way around.”

With the goals of making it past the first round of the playoffs set, and with the burgeoning talent to do so, Tucker-Smith knows that she has to keep her girls focused throughout the season to ensure this season adds another layer of softball success that Newton hasn’t seen in years.

“I was just talking with the girls about playing in their skillset and not trying to do too much,” she said. “I want this to be the best year that the seniors have had. I feel like they’re hungry to go past that first round. I feel like if I can get them as ‘chomping at the bit’ about everything as I am, then I feel like it’s going to trickle down to my younger girls.

“If everything goes as planned, I feel like this could be our year, honestly.”

The Lady Rams will kick off their season with a scrimmage against Salem on July 30 and then a doubleheader at Morgan County on August 9.