Prep Baseball: Veteran Newnan team off to fast start

As hoped — with 14 players returning from last spring's state playoff lineup — Newnan is off to an auspicious start on the baseball diamond.
With victories in their first two non-region contests, the Cougars have picked up right where they left off following a 20-9 season in 2012. They take an undefeated record into today’s trip to McIntosh for a 5:30 p.m. first pitch.
Newnan, which has reached the state playoffs in 15 of the last 16 seasons, has already shown its ability to rally this season, clawing from a 6-0 deficit in its opener against Woodward Academy to win 9-7. Connor Dunn had a single and a home run and finished with two RBIs. Jonathan Swenson finished the game with three RBIs. Devin Henry also had a hit and an RBI.
Three pitchers worked from the mound for the Cougars in the Woodward victory with Thomas Sumner striking out two in three innings of work. Tanner Shellgrove picked up the win striking out two. Will Dreggors threw a scoreless seventh inning to earn the save.
The Cougars also won a pitchers’ duel against Troup County, collecting a 1-0 victory. Brandon Dawson struck out three batters in five innings and Grayson Stewart struckout a batter in the sixth. Dreggors added his second save with a strikeout in the seventh. Rodney Tennie and Jake Kneidel finished with two hits each.

Newnan’s coach Kenny Morris has plenty of reason to be optimistic heading into the 2013 season, and it starts with the team’s experience and depth.

“We are really excited with the varsity experience we have coming back this season,” he said.

The Cougars return 14 players from last year’s squad including several pitchers who put up impressive numbers.

Sumner is expected to win several games against this season. A year ago, he finished with an 8-1 record, appearing in 11 games, posting a 2.28 ERA in 61 1/3 innings. He also added 53 strikeouts and just 14 walks to his season totals.

Derrick Nelson also returns to the mound after posting a 5-3 record last season. Nelson appeared in 10 games for the Cougars posting a 4.07 ERA. He also added 32 strikeouts and 15 walks.
Jonathan Swenson struck out six batters in seven trips to the mound last season. Beau Shelnutt went 1-0 in five appearances last season, while Blake Payne, Shellgrove and Grayson Stewart are expected to log innings for the Cougars this season.

Also back on the mound is Brandon Dawson, who missed all of last season with a injury. Dawson was important part of the Cougars’ semifinal run in 2011.

Newnan also returns experience behind the plate as Sam Buchanan and Connor Dunn return.

The Cougars’ outfield is loaded with speed and experience again this year.

It starts with senior Rodney Tennie, who is coming off a sensational year on the football field for the Cougars this fall. A year ago, Tennie led the Cougars with a .362 batting average in 58 trips to the plate while finishing with 16 RBIs, three doubles and a triple. Henry, who batted .235 with seven RBIs and a homer in 2012 also is back.

The Newnan outfield also returns Charles Reeves, who appeared in 27 games last season while scoring 12 runs and finishing with 9 RBIs.

Dawson, Derrick Johnson, and Justin Groover are also expected to see time in the outfield.

Newnan also brings back plenty of depth among its infielders, with Swenson, and Nelson expected to divide their time between the field and the mound.

Swenson was the team’s second leading hitter last year, batting .346 with a team-leading 17 RBIs. Nelson batted .264 with 14 RBIs last season.

Dreggors also displayed a potent bat last season, finishing with a .310 average. He also drove in 11 RBIs. Dreggors and Swenson led the team with 27 hits.

Dunn, Beau Shelnutt, Bryson Shoemake, Corey Cox, Drew Oldham, Walker Sandlin, and Kneidel are also expected to see time in the infield.

Following today’s game, Newnan returns home against Sandy Creek on Thursday and also hosts Pike County on Friday.

Newnan plays in a small, six-team region this year and the Region 6-AAAAA schedule as been set up in three-game series.

It is something Morris likes.

“It is a lot like the state playoffs,” he said. “It is going to force you to be careful how you use your pitchers. I think you are going to see some surprises. Teams are going to have to develop a pitching staff.”

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