High School Baseball
Cougars stumble late against Westlake to open region play
by Chris Goltermann
Newnan head baseball coach Marc Gilmore probably knew there would probably be times during the Region 3-AAAAAA schedule that this year’s lineup — one completely unidentifiable to last year’s state playoff roster — would face adversity due to its youth and inexperience.
He just might not have expected it to arrive in such a fashion as Wednesday’s loss to Westlake.
One bad inning, highlighted by an ill-fated pitch on an otherwise solid night for Newnan’s arms, was the difference between the Cougars potentially taking the opener of a three-game region series with the Lions at Joe Pope Field.
Westlake catcher Jalan Daniels’ sixth-inning grand slam off sophomore reliever Sawyer Steele capped off a 5-3 comeback victory that soured an Newnan effort that had the Cougars in control of a one-run lead through the first five.
The loss dropped Newnan to 0-1 in 3-AAAAAA and 3-8 overall and the team will have to wait until Spring Break to get revenge with the series wrapping up with games at alternating home sites on April 7 and 8.
Westlake (2-5, 1-0), which was outhit by the Cougars 7-6, struck out 12 times but managed to leave nine Newnan runners on base in the victory while throwing out three more on the basepaths.
Starting pitcher Tyler Witcher gave up five hits and five walks through five innings with reliever Malcolm Boyce picking up the win in relief for Westlake.
The Lions may have equally caught a break when starting pitcher Tanner Snellgrove didn’t return to the mound for the sixth as planned. Snellgrove struck out eight while allowing a run on three hits and four walks until that point on nearly 80 pitches.
With the Cougar left-hander gone, Westlake proceeded to load the bases without a ball reaching the outfield against reliever Brady Barnes on a misplayed grounder toward first, a walk and Jerome Holmes’ push-bunt single past the mound.
Steele, who has equally been strong in previous outings, immediately came on to face Daniels, and left a 2-1 pitch up in the zone that was launched nearly halfway up the hill past the left-field fence to give Westlake.
It was the sophomore’s only mistake, proceeding to strikeout the side in the seventh. Buy then, however, Newnan’s plans had gone well awry.
Gilmore expected to have Snellgrove trot back out to the mound for the start of the sixth. But missed communications in the dugout saw Barnes initially the rubber instead, signaling the end of Snellgrove’s night by rule. Despite not yet firing a pitch, Newnan’s head coach had no choice but to go to his bullpen earlier than expected.
“Miscommunication in one inning. I had planned to go with Tanner and it just snowballed from there,” said Gilmore. “One pitch doesn’t win or lose this game. Give their guy credit. Our Achilles Heel all year has been runners in scoring position. Too often we just haven’t gotten it done.”
Despite rallying from an early 1-0 deficit with two runs in the bottom of the first, miscues kept Newnan from further damage. A missed bunt attempt with two strikes led to a botched hit-and-run attempt that left Barnes caught trying to steal third.
Senior Jake Kneidel, who went 2-for-3 with a walk, made up for it with an RBI single that tied the game. The Cougars then caught a break when Caleb McElwaney legged out a grounder to short that was backhanded and dropped in the hole by Westlake shortstop Montre Boyce giving Newnan a 2-1 advantage.
The lead stuck for four innings with help from Snellgrove and a heads-up pickoff play that erased a Westlake runner in the third when second-baseman Drew Oldham attracted Lion runner Deijhard Kimbrough’s attention when he charged toward home, shielding Snellgrove’s move to first.
Snellgrove, who struck out the side in the second, battled out of jams in his final three innings with Lions in scoring position. His biggest strikeout came when he fanned Westlake’s Lorenzo Raglin with the bases loaded to end the fifth after the big first-baseman reached base in his first two-at bats starting with a first-inning RBI double.
Newnan, though, equally couldn’t convert its chances.
The team had two more baserunners snuffed out including one on a pickoff at first in the second inning and left a runner on second or third base in each of its last six at bats. It’s best chance came in the fifth, loading the bases with two outs.
Lions 5, Cougars 3
Westlake 100 004 0 — 5 6 1
Newnan 200 001 0 — 3 7 1
WP — Malcolm Boyce
LP — Brady Barnes