High School Baseball
Cougars, Snellgrove keep season alive in split
by Chris Goltermann
On an afternoon where it was still hard to distinguish which of Newnan’s two starting pitchers was the ‘ace,’ senior Tanner Snellgrove proved he wasn’t ready to relinquish his title.
With its season on the line following a 3-2 loss in nine innings in Game One, and his team’s offense still caught in a funk, the Cougar left-hander stayed the course in a complete-game 7-2 victory over an up-and-coming Valdosta lineup that set up a third game to decide a GHSA Class AAAAAA first round playoff series.
Game Three will also be played at Newnan’s Joe Pope Field today at noon.
Snellgrove allowed two hits and one earned run over seven innings, allowing an emotionally-drained group of teammates to find its stride at the plate again.
Newnan dropped the opener after being unable to plate the tying run from third with one out in the bottom of the seventh following Anthony Marino’s RBI double down the right-field line.
Valdosta had regained a lead with a clutch two-out RBI single by leadoff hitter David Posas in the top of the frame.
In a matchup of two young teams in programs trying to reload during the 2014 season, the Wildcats had the early edge in clutch play. But led by its senior No. 1 pitcher, Newnan closed in a flourish by scoring seven runs over its final three at bats in Game Two.
“We were on the brink in the first game. We had our chances and we just couldn’t get the job done,” said Newnan head coach Marc Gilmore. “In Game Two, Tanner put us on his back and helped save our season.”
Pitching was key for Newnan over two games where its bats struggled at times to find holes in Valdosta’s defense. Marino’s double accounted for the only extra-base hit in the Game One loss, which seemed to take some of the energy out of the Cougars.
“It took us five innings to get over the first game,” Gilmore admitted. “I told our guys that we were fighting for our season. But with our ace on the hill in a must-win game, I’ll take that scenario any day of the week.”
Sophomore Sawyer Steele equally went seven innings in the opener for the Cougars, staying ahead in the count and working out of jams that left six Wildcats on base as the game headed to extra-innings.
Valdosta, which entered the postseason for the first time since 2010 with only one senior on the roster, set the tone by leading for the first 13 innings of the series. Sophomore Seth Shuman matched Steele in the opener on the mound while allowing just five hits.
Newnan used three relievers over the final two innings in Game One before Posas connected up the middle on an 0-2 count for a two-run single that broke a 1-1 tie.
“I thought our bullpen was outstanding,” Gilmore said. “We were able to go righty-lefty when we wanted to.”
While the Cougars were unable to give Snellgrove much support while held to one hit through the first four innings of the nightcap while acting as the visitors at Pope Field, Newnan found any way it could to keep pressure on Valdosta junior starter Austin Lieupo.
Caleb McElwaney’s clutch RBI double in the fourth finally gave Newnan its first lead of the series and helped key a four-run rally in the inning after it looked as if the Cougars’ offense was going to be unable to come out of a funk.
Newnan also used two bases-loaded walks to Brady Barnes and Jake Kneidel in the fifth and seventh, a sacrifice fly by Connor Dunn in the fifth and a wild pitch to score runs in Game Two.
Drew Oldham’s single in the fourth kept a one-out rally alive by loading the bases for Barnes. Dunn tied it at 2-2 with a fly ball to left before McElwaney came through in the clutch with his two-run double one batters later.
Barnes and Dunn added singles while adding three insurance runs in the top of the seventh.
Wildcats 3, Cougars 2
Valdosta 001 000 002 — 3 7 2
Newnan 000 100 001 — 2 6 0
Cougars 7, Wildcats 2
Newnan 000 040 3 — 7 4 1
Valdosta 010 010 0 — 2 2 0
WP — Tanner Snellgrove