GHSA Baseball Playoffs
No. 6 Newnan hopes to give head coach a fitting sendoff
by Doug Gorman
The game of baseball never changes from the regular season to the playoffs.
Players have to field, hit, run, throw and catch.
That was the message Newnan head coach Kenny Morris had for his team at the end of Thursday’s practice on the eve of opening the Class AAAAAA postseason at Joe Pope Field against visiting Newton in the best-of-three series.
The teams will play a doubleheader beginning at 4 p.m. A third-and-deciding contest is scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m, if needed.
“You want to get to the playoffs every year,” Morris said. “Hopefully, you are playing your best ball when you get there.”
The team also wants to extend the baseball coaching career of Morris, who has announced he is stepping down from his baseball head coaching duties at the end of the season following 25-plus seasons on high school diamonds.
“It’s all about the kids,” he said. “I don’t want anything to take away from them.”
Morris, who also serves as the football team’s offensive coordinator, will stay on in that role, as well as continuing to teach at the high school. But he’s left a lasting impression on the baseball field.
“My hat’s off to him. He’s always gotten the best out of his players,” said East Coweta head coach Franklin DeLoach, who battled Morris first as a player in Clayton County and then as a colleague of Newnan’s closest rival. “He’s someone who’s very respected.”
Newnan comes into the series with the Rams with a 20-5 overall record, the No. 2 seed out of Region 3-AAAAAA and ranked sixth in the most recent gasports.com Class AAAAAA poll.
The Rams have struggled at time, and bring an 8-18 overall record into the first round of the playoffs.
With 15 seniors on this year’s roster, Newnan has plenty of playoff experience, but also enough focus to know they can’t automatically expect to waltz into the second-round.
“It’s the playoffs, everybody is good,” senior outfielder Rodney Tennie said.
Tennie has helped the Cougars achieve their state ranking with a .344 batting average and 10 RBIs.
“You have to have a mindset that it’s the playoffs,” Tennie said. “You know you have to win two games or you go home.”
Newnan enters the series with depth on the mound.
Seniors Thomas Sumner (7-3) and Brandon Dawson (6-1) are expected to start in order for today’s doubleheader. The pair have showcased precision and control. Dawson leads the Cougars with 64 strikeouts with Sumner right behind with 54. Each has allowed just eight walks.
Should the Cougars need a third pitcher on Saturday, Morris has plenty of options including Jake Kneidel (3-0) and Tanner Snellgrove (3-0).
Newnan got a taste of how to use its pitchers since Region 3-AAAAAA league play was divided into three-game series.
“I think the way we set up the region can only benefit us when it comes to how we will use our pitchers,” Morris said. “You have to have multiple pitchers once you get to the playoffs.”
If Newnan’s veteran coach has a concern, it’s the fact his team hasn’t played since April 25 when it beat Langston Hughes in the final game of the regular season.
“You do what you can to stay focused,” he said. “It’s starts over now, and it’s basically a three-game season. Hopefully, you win, and you move on to the next three-game season and you start all over again. The good thing about high school baseball in Georgia is you do play a three-game series.
Dawson might be the most hungry of all the members of the Cougars’ roster.
A year ago, he sat out his junior season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
“It was hard to watch and know I couldn’t be a part of it,” he said. “I just can’t wait to get out there.”
The Cougars several seniors as part of their infield, including first-baseman Jonathan Swenson, second baseman Derrick Nelson and shortstop Will Dreggors.
Catcher Sam Buchanan has thrown out several opponents trying to steal this year. He also has knocked in 14 runs.
The Cougars outfield of Tennie, Charles Reeves and Devin Henry, have showcased their defensive skills. Henry was hurt in the series against rival East Coweta, but is expected to play should Newnan advance.
The winner plays either Region 4-AAAAAA champion McEachern or 1-AAAAAA fourth-seed Tift County in the second round.