Prep Baseball: Newnan comes through in a pinch

By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
cgoltermann@newnan.com
Desperate times call for desperate measures. And just when all looked lost for the Newnan Cougars for the second consecutive baseball afternoon, the Cougars came through in a pinch against Sandy Creek.
On a bitterly cold final night in February where 40 degrees felt more like just four, Newnan rallied from a four-run deficit to score five times over its final three at-bats capped off by a clutch pinch-hit RBI single from junior Justin Groover on a drawn-in Patriots infield to give his team a walk-off 5-4 victory.
After seeing solid start to the 2013 season take a sharp detour in a 10-0 loss at McIntosh on Wednesday, the Cougars seemed stuck in neutral again through four innings at Joe Pope Field before finally coming alive in the final three.
Down 4-0 following a disastrous four-run fifth inning, Newnan (2-1) crept back in the game by scoring once in the fifth, twice in the sixth and two more times in the bottom of the seventh while giving junior reliever Jake Kneidel a well-deserved victory after holding Sandy Creek scoreless in its final two at bats.
The Cougars cap off a busy three-day stretch of games today at home against Pike County in another non-region game.

On Thursday, Groover capped off a wild comeback that denied Sandy Creek its first victory to close a round-robin of all three GHSA lineups in Coweta County by ripping a hit into short left-field to score senior teammate Jonathan Swenson with the game-winning run.

Trailing 4-3 in the seventh following back-to-back RBI hits from pinch-hitter Beau Shellnutt and Charles Reeves in the sixth, Derrick Nelson’s leadoff single up the middle put the tying run aboard to open the final inning. Will Dreggors’ perfectly executed sacrifice bunt was followed by Swenson’s second double to the right-center gap in as many innings, tying the game.

That brought up a chance for Groover, who promptly connected on a line-drive that ricocheted off the glove of Sandy Creek’s shortstop and caromed into left to plate Swenson with the game-winner.

“The thing I was proud of tonight was that everybody contributed,” said Newnan head coach Kenny Morris. “We had two pinch hitters drive in two runs. The biggest thing was we competed.”

Newnan pounded out 10 hits — including five for extra bases — but could only manage a pair of singles up until the bottom of the fourth while stranding eight runners, including four in the first two innings.

Cougar left-hander Tanner Snellgrove equally kept Sandy Creek in check with teams combining for three hits through four innings. The junior retired 10 consecutive Patriots, striking out three before the game took a bizarre swing in the fifth.

It began when catcher Sam Buchanan - who batted in the fourth - was denied a chance to throw down to second base by the home-plate umpire after finally getting his gear on. After Morris vocally protested, Snellgrove’s first batter in the fifth reached on four consecutive pitches, none of which appeared more than an inch off the plate.

It was the first of three walks in the inning sandwiched between an RBI double, a sacrifice fly and a surprising balk call on reliever Grayson Stewart. It left Sandy Creek with a 4-0 lead while riding a strong effort from starting pitcher David Dixon.

Dixon, however, exited in the bottom of the fifth after allowing a run off a leadoff triple by Reeves on a ball that glanced off an outfielder’s glove in deep center, followed by Devin Henry’s sacrifice fly and another triple by leadoff hitter Rodney Tennie down the first-base line.

Newnan further cut into the deficit with two more runs in the sixth off three more hits starting with Swenson’s leadoff double. After Brandon Dawson reached on a throwing error, Shellnutt connected with a pinch-hit RBI single to the gap in right center. Reeves then followed with an RBI double to score pinch runner Drew Oldham to pull within 4-3.

Kneidel, meanwhile, stayed the course after coming on after Stewart’s balk, getting help defensively in the sixth when Corey Cox stabbed a sacrifice bunt attempt charging in from third for a double-play. Kneidel struck out two in the seventh before getting out of a jam with Patriot runners on first and second.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who can throw for us,” said Morris on a night where Cougar pitchers were able to strand six Patriot baserunners. “Both [Shellnutt and Kneidel] did a real solid job for us.”



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