GHSA Baseball Playoffs
Pings, 'Bop' help Newnan sweep Rams
by Chris Goltermann
Twenty-five pings and one mighty “Bop” sounded a sweep for Newnan’s baseball team over Newton in the first round of the Georgia High School Association Class AAAAAA State Tournament on Friday.
The Cougars outhit Newton 25-6 over a two-game sweep while scoring in double-digits during consecutive 15-9 and 11-1 victories at Joe Pope Field.
Newnan never trailed in either game behind an explosive outing at the plate, pounding four Rams pitchers for 15 hits in game one to take a commanding 8-2 lead after two innings.
Four Cougars had multi-hit games in game one, including Corey Cox, who gave his team breathing room with a two RBI single in the sixth after Newton closed to within a 12-9 deficit.
Newnan added 10 more hits in the finale starting with a three-run outburst while batting in the top of the first highlighted by Jonathan Swenson’s RBI double.
In between, Newnan’s program surprised retiring head coach Kenny Morris with a ceremony while honoring him with a plaque and a shadow-boxed jersey following 25-plus years coaching baseball, the last 16 of which have come at Newnan High.
“I thought offensively it was the best we’e played all year,” Morris said. “We did a good job running the bases and took extra bases on them when we had the chance.”
(To view photos from this game, visit http://photos.times-herald.com/mycapture and click on Sports for the Photo Gallery.)
The Cougars, though, proved they’re not yet ready for his tenure to end in the dugout while advancing to next week’s second round against either Region 4-AAAAAA champion McEachern or 1-AAAAAA No. 4 seed Tift County.
The teams split a doubleheader Friday in Cobb, with Tift winning game one 4-1 and McEachern rallying to take game two 11-4.
While managing to extend game one to nearly three hours with a six-run outburst in the fifth after Newnan starter Thomas Sumner left the ballgame with a comfortable 12-3 lead, the Rams were reminded how dominating Cougar right-hander Brandon Dawson could be in the nightcap while unable to get a runner past second base.
Better known as “Bop” to Newnan fans, Dawson breezed through five innings in a one-hit shutout to close the series victory while needing eight pitches to retire the Newton side in order in the final inning.
“The last time he faced Newton as a sophomore, he threw a no-hitter,” noted Morris of Dawson, who missed his junior year recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery.
After going 3-for-3 with 3 RBIs in game one highlighted by a two-run double that began Newnan’s scoring on Thursday in the bottom of the first, Dawson gained command from the mound by retiring six of his first seven batters, two on strikes.
Newton’s Floyd Ellis broke up the no-hitter with a single in the top of the third but was immediately erased on a double play when Dawson dove to the left of the mound when a bunt attempt was sent back his way.
After a pair of two-out walks that followed consecutive strikeouts, Dawson fanned Rams freshman Alex Johnson to end Newton’s only other threat .
He closed the game by retiring the side in order, starting with two more strikeouts that needing a combined seven pitches.
“I thought it was good that we set the tone early in the second game,” said Morris.
Ahead 3-0, Newnan put game two out of reach with a five-run fourth inning rally capped off by Sam Buchanan’s triple into the right-field corner. Jake Kneidel and Justin Groover opened the inning with back-to-back singles before scoring on an error and a wild pitch.
Newton starter Allen Bowen struggled to find the strike zone, walking three batters to keep the Cougar rally going before being relieved by Johnson.
Derrick Nelson’s two-run single the opposite way to left had pushed Newnan to the run-rule limit in the top of the fifth.
The team had been in the same position in game one, but couldn’t land the final blow despite a 15-hit performance. Newnan stranded 12 runners, including the bases loaded three times over the first five innings.
It allowed the Rams to battle their way back into the game despite being held in check by Sumner, who allowed three runs off two hits before leaving in the fourth inning.
By then, Newnan had built a 12-3 lead following six runs in the second and three in the fourth to finally force Newton starting pitcher Kenneth Glover out of the game. The Cougars batted around in the first, second and fourth as Newnan’s top three hitters — Will Dreggors, Derrick Nelson and Swenson all finished with two hits.
An RBI double to deep-center by Groover in the latter rally was followed by a mammoth fly by Beau Shellnut to the fence for a long out. Will Dreggors’ then crushed an RBI double to end Glover’s outing.
Newnan reliever Beau Shellnutt, who had a two-run single in the second, struggled to get an out in the fifth as the Rams scored more than half their output over the two games in a single inning.
After scoring four times on Shellnut to pull within 12-7, fellow lefty Tanner Snellgrove gave up an RBI and a groundout that closed Newton’s deficit to three runs before recording back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning.
Snellgrove struck out seven in just three-innings work while allowing just two hits.