The Newton Rams started off the second half of region play with a 9-1 victory over MLK at Newton High Tuesday night.
The Rams played solid defense behind Sherman Graves, who got the complete-game victory.
Graves scattered five hits and two walks, while compiling nine strikeouts over seven innings. The top four hitters in the Rams' lineup had six of their seven hits, providing offense for Graves.
With pitching and hitting working well for the Rams, though, it was the defense that shined for the first time in several games to secure the wide margin of victory.
"Allowing only two walks and committing only one error was key for us tonight," Newton coach Vincent Byams said. "The ability for us to put the ball in play allowed us to put pressure on their defense."
After Graves shut down MLK in the top of the first after their first two runners reached base, Newton's Jeremy Laguins led off the bottom of the inning with a single to center and advanced to third on wild pitches. With one out, Ryan McCranie walked and stole second. The throw to second went through into center field and Laguins scored the Rams first run. Allen Bowen struck out on a ball in the dirt, but was heady enough to hustle down to first and reach base on another over-throw by MLK's catcher.
McCranie scored on the play and the Rams had a 2-0 lead.
In the bottom of the second catcher Floyd Ellis walked and moved to second on Keon Matthews sacrifice bunt. Laguins reached based on a walk, but was cut down stealing. A walk to Daniel Croom and infield singles by McCranie and Allen Bowen helped produce three more runs to up the Ram lead to 5-0.
In the top of the fourth MLK scored their lone run on two hits, but a diving catch in center with two outs by Croom prevented further damage. Another diving catch, this time by Keon Matthews, ended the top of the fifth in similar fashion. Coach Byams pointed out, "those catches by Croom and Matthews prevented MLK from coming up with momentum changers at that point in the game."
The Rams put up two more runs in their half of the fourth. Laguins again drew a walk and Bowen doubled to left-center. With two outs, Graves grounded sharply to short, but the shortstop made an error on the play and the lead stretched to 7-1.
Newton posted an unearned run in the fifth and then added their final run in the sixth on a Croom single and a McCranie double. Graves finished strong, striking out two of the three MLK hitters in the seventh to close out the game.
The win improved Newton's record to 3-5 in region play and 7-10 overall. A big game looms on the horizon Friday at Stephenson and then the Rams take off a week for spring break.