COVINGTON, Ga. — There was a wide range of talent throughout the softball world in Newton County this season, and each program had its fair share of ups and downs.
Newton and Eastside both made it to the state playoffs but fell in the early stages after running into some tough matchups. The Alcovy Tigers ran into some tough region games but still seem to be trending in the right direction under head coach Miranda Lamb.
The Social Circle Redskins were going to have a hard time replicating their 2018 showing where they finished as state champions of AA softball, but still had some substantial contributors throughout their tough season.
The Newton Rams led by Virginia Tucker-Smith broke out and even had a few historic achievements in 2019. However, the Eastside Eagles had the arguably most impressive showing of all the squads in Newton County as their regular season ended with only a single loss on their final record.
This outstanding showing by the Eagles and this Heather Wood led squad has nabbed their head coach the Covington News Coach of the Year honor.
Coach of the Year: Eastside Eagles’ Heather Wood
Wood's team did not only finish with an overall record of 20-1 and a region record of 6-0, but they did so in dominant fashion. The Eagles outscored their opponents 182- 16 in the regular season.
The Eagles only made it to the second round of the playoffs, but this was not due to the Eagles faltering. They ran into one of the best teams in the state in defending and eventual AAAA champion Heritage-Catoosa. The Eagles challenged the Generals and only lost by scores of 1-0 in the first game and 2-0 in the second game. This easily could have been a state championship match as the Eagles were the Generals’ toughest challenge in the playoffs and their closest margin. Wood's Eagles was a championship-caliber squad and had plenty to be proud of this season.
Player of the Year: P Kailey Rusk, Eastside Eagles
The Eagles' outstanding season and ability to outscore opponents came from the exceptional senior pitcher Kailey Rusk. Rusk was one of the most dominant pitchers in the state as she finished with a final ERA of 0.43 as she only allowed an outstanding nine earned runs. She matched that up with a fantastic strikeout to walks ratio as she struck out 262 batters while only walking 26. Rusk was credited on multiple occasions for her ability to keep her team in ballgames, and her out of this world pitching makes that most evident.
What sets Rusk apart from many pitchers is that her dominance continues into other areas of her game. Her hitting is one of the most notable areas that her remarkable play continues as she was not only the most exceptional pitchers, but she also was most effective at the plate. Of Eagles starters, Rusk finished second in batting average and RBIs with a .455 average and 28 RBIs. She also led the team in home runs with six. Such an amazing senior year for the Eagles pitcher makes her most deserving of Player of the Year honors.
Co-Pitcher of the Year: Hayden Pearson, Newton
Newton county had plenty of deserving pitchers in 2019, and each team's starter played a significant role in the overall team's success. Newton Rams sophomore pitcher Hayden Pearson is a prime example of that, and like Rusk, she shined both as a pitcher and as a hitter for her team. As a pitcher, Pearson's dominant pitching led the Rams to a 17-7 regular-season record and their first win in school history against Archer. Pearson finished with a 2.57 ERA while striking out 70 batters. She became more and more comfortable as the season progressed and should contend for the spot of county's best pitcher next season.
As mentioned earlier, Pearson was similar to Rusk as she found some success at the plate as well. Pearson was second on the team in batting average for the Rams as she batted .377. She also scored the fourth-most runs, with 19, and had the fourth-most RBIs with 14. Even more impressive was Pearson's work on the base paths as she finished tied for the second-most steals with 11. Pearson truly is a do-it-all player and should progress into one of the best all-around players in the county.
Co-Pitcher of the Year: Lexie McDonald, Alcovy
Like Pearson, McDonald really came along in her sophomore season, especially on the mound. McDonald did split a lot of time while on the mound but finished with a winning record of 7-3 with a 2.15 ERA. She showed that she has the potential to contend to be one of the county's best pitchers, as she and Pearson should compete for that title for the next two years.
Now, like Pearson and Rusk, she continued the tradition of also doing some damage at the plate for her team this year. She tied for fourth in the team in batting average with a .342 average while also finishing with the fifth most runs scored with 16. McDonald should continue to grow and develop into yet another well-rounded player in Newton county.
Freshman of the Year: DH Kyla Stroud, Newton
Kyla Stroud may have gotten off to a slow start, but she put opposing teams on notice in the later stages of the season with how dangerous she can truly be with her bat. Of players with 40 or more at-bats, Stroud's .517 batting average, 31 hits, 20 RBI, three triples and two home runs were enough to lead each of those offensive categories.
Stroud also went on to hit for the cycle, which is a feat that Rams coach Tucker-Smith believed she had never seen before from one of her own players in all her years of coaching. This level of outstanding play at the plate continued in the postseason, and doing it as a freshman showed just what type of impact Stroud could have in the future for the Rams.
Each player on the list had sizable impacts, and all are most deserving of the honor for their wide variety of skills. Seniors like the Rams Mariah Williams shined on the base paths with 24 steals as she was almost a "walking double" for her knack and success of stealing second. Eagles Lauren Burnett was an RBI machine and one of her team's best hitters in the postseason. Each player's unique set of skills could have easily landed them on the first, second, or even honorable mention list. Here is the list that we came up with for this year's softball all-area teams.
All-TCN First Team
C Kaitlyn Neely - Newton Rams
1B/P Mackenzie Rodgers - Alcovy Tigers
SS Lauren Burnett - Eastside Eagles
SS Ty’Liyah Hardeman - Newton Rams
3B Talacia Thompson - Alcovy Tigers
P Kailey Rusk - Eastside Eagles
OF Natalie Ray - Eastside Eagles
OF Mariah Williams - Newton Rams
3B Alysee Dobbs - Eastside Eagles
DH Kyla Stroud - Newton Rams
All-TCN Second Team
C Heather Henderson - Eastside Eagles
2B Gwyn Lee - Alcovy Tigers
P Lexie McDonald - Alcovy Tigers
P Hayden Pearson - Newton Rams
2B/OF Tara Poole - Social Circle Redskins
OF Ava Anglin - Eastside Eagles
P Macy Langley - Social Circle Redskins
C Janee Bellamy - Alcovy Tigers
2B Aulora Edwards - Newton Rams
SS KeLana Gibson - Alcovy Tigers
3B/P Aubrey Garrett - Social Circle Redskins
OF Alyssa Cruz - Eastside Eagles
1B Jakiyra Lemmon - Eastside Eagles
OF/P Katelynn Anglin - Newton Rams
2B Kelsey Ellis - Eastside Eagles
RF Ezareona Sheppard - Alcovy Tigers
CF Jada Brown - Alcovy Tigers
SS Alexa Wykoff - Social Circle Redskins
C Ana Allen - Social Circle Redskins
OF Emma Swider - Social Circle Redskins
3B Gracie Jones - Social Circle Redskins