Prep Baseball: Cougars can't regain momentum in series, season finale vs. Tift
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
The demons that haunted Newnan in Game 2 of its first-round state playoff series again reared their ugly head in Saturday's elimination game against Tift County at home.
In the end, Guy McClung and the Blue Devils haunted the Cougars long enough to get their revenge.
The Cougars seemed primed for a sweep after lefty reliever Austin Moore got McClung to ground into a key double-play in the seventh inning for a one-run victory in Game One.
But Tift scored the first eight runs of Friday's nightcap and turned that momentum into a 3-0 lead on Saturday with Moore and McClung taking the mound for respective lineups on a brutally hot May afternoon.
"Momentum is huge in any high school sport. I told them I felt like we had a tough time recovering from that second game," said Newnan head coach Kenny Morris. "It's disappointing for the seniors. We had roughly one-and-a-half starters back from last year and I don't think anybody expected us to do this well. I was proud of the way we fought today."
Tift County (14-15), which finished as the No. 3 seed in Region 1-AAAAA advances to play Class AAAAA top-ranked Parkview (23-5) next week.
Newnan, meanwhile, was left to ponder what went wrong in a year where it won more than 20 games on a roster with three seniors — including a sweep of region rival East Coweta — but equally experienced its share of frustrating losses along the way.
The Cougars went through more than their share of vexation in Saturday's finale.
With both pitchers cruising through three scoreless innings to open Game 3, the Cougars were able to pull within a 3-2 deficit following a three-run fourth inning rally by the Blue Devils. But Newnan left the bases loaded before stranding two more runners in the fifth while trying to even the score.
The crushing blow, however, came in the sixth following a one-out walk to speedy outfielder Rodney Tennie. Squaring to bunt, Charles Reeves' attempt went in opposite direction of home plate and Tift catcher Will Reinhardt quickly snagged the pop up before doubling Tennie up to end the inning.
"We were bunting for a hit there," Morris said. "Unfortunately we couldn't get it down."
The Blue Devils tormented Newnan further in the seventh, initially adding an insurance run that morphed into a four-run outburst on four hits and two crucial Cougar errors that kept the inning alive.
Tift out-slugged Newnan 10-4 in the final game with seven of the Blue Devils hits coming in its pair of run-scoring rallies.
The Cougars always seemed one hit away from getting back into the game, getting on the board on Devin Henry's groundout that plated Tennie, who beat out an infield single past the bag at first. Newnan added a second when Tift shortstop Cole Janousek rushed a throw to first.
Despite McClung allowing both runs in the fifth, sophomore reliever Deviner McCray - a mere 5-9, 145 pounds - came up big for the gargantuan 6-3, 247-pound Blue Devil righty after entering the game with the bases-loaded and two outs.
McCray was able to get catcher Sam Buchanan to tap back to the mound while retiring six of the final seven batters he faced.
Moore equally started strong for Newnan, allowing just two hits through three innings before tiring in the fourth. The lefty gave up a leadoff single to Tift senior Nick Utley after falling behind 3-0 and then equally got behind the count against his next two batters before loading the bases with consecutive walks.
"I thought he did a good job out there. He just got tired," Morris said. "It was hot out there today."
The Blue Devils had a rude welcome for reliever Will Dreggors, who walked Reinhardt on six pitches to open the scoring. Back-to-back singles from Tift teammates Blake Suggs and Zeke Dodson upped the lead to 3-0.
Dodson came through with three of Tift's 10 hits, including a one-out single to get things started in the bottom of the sixth.
Third-place teams upending No. 2 seeds on the road among Region 2-AAAAA vs. 1-AAAAA first-round matchups. The other two series had respective region champions, Luella and Colquitt County, advancing.