De­fend­ing champs win again

The Covington News - - SPORTS - SHA­KEEM HOL­LOWAY shol­loway@cov­news.com

It was a hot Satur­day morn­ing with sunny skies and a slight breeze that ap­peared ev­ery 15 min­utes or so to pro­vide just a lit­tle com­fort from the beam­ing sun. It’s easy to say this wasn’t a pitcher’s duel. In fact it was more like a home run derby – a highly en­ter­tain­ing cham­pi­onship game nonethe­less.

All the New­ton All-Stars had to do was beat Athens to be district cham­pi­ons yet again, and that’s ex­actly what they did in a 8-5 vic­tory.

Af­ter New­ton pitcher Jack­son Watts got out of the first in­ning with a run­ner stranded on third, New­ton got off to a quick start that would prove costly for Athens. Andrew Cald­well was on the mound for Athens. Watts drove one deep that looked like a homer at first, and it made a loud clang off the bat be­fore it touched the mid­dle of the gate deep in cen­ter­field for a sin­gle.

Right be­hind Watts was Chan­dler Gates, who hit a dou­ble be­tween cen­ter and right to ad­vance Watts to third. Pey­ton Wat­son came up to bat and started fight­ing off strikes with foul balls. Cald­well fi­nally gave Wat­son some­thing he could get a hold of, and Wat­son de­liv­ered by hit­ting it deep fly­ing over the fence for a three-run homer to put New­ton up 3-0. The crowd and Wat­son’s team­mates went in an up­roar as the um­pire gave the ‘cir­cle the bases’ sig­nal.

Cald­well was able to get out of the in­ning with only a run­ner on base and no more runs from New­ton. Watts stayed in the zone as he went three-up and three-down in the top of the sec­ond in­ning.

Jer­rol Hines lined a chop­per to short and made it to first off sheer speed. He ad­vanced to third off a cou­ple hits, but he was left stranded on base to end the in­ning.

With the score at 3-0 in the bot­tom of the third, it seemed New­ton’s of­fense was set­tling in af­ter the quick jump. Wat­son came back up to bat and Cald­well threw his first pitch of the in­ning and boom! Wat­son blasted a solo home run way back over the fence and trot­ted around the bases with a bright smile on his face.

As Athens sat watch­ing, down 4-0 en­ter­ing the fourth, it seemed the chances at win­ning a district cham­pi­onship were fad­ing. A cou­ple of base hits did the trick for Athens. There were no outs with run­ners at the cor­ners. A hit to deep cen­ter al­lowed Athens to get its first run of the game, but it was a close one. As the run­ner crossed the plate he was al­most gunned down from the out­field. A sec­ond quicker and he likely would have been called out.

New­ton found it­self in a jam in the top of the fourth. Athens was start­ing to get hits off Watts, and with the bases loaded and only one out New­ton head coach Brian Digby talked with his team at the mound.

“He threw the ball good the whole game,” Digby said. “He had a cou­ple mis­cues, a cou­ple of bloop­ers, he had them off bal­ance the whole game. I knew I still had all my pitch­ing left. We talked about it and we all made that de­ci­sion as a coach­ing staff. He de­serves to stay in there and what­ever hap­pens, hap­pens.”

Digby’s con­fi­dence to leave Watts in proved to be a great de­ci­sion. Watts got the next bat­ter out af­ter he hit the ball to first and the run­ner was thrown out at home. Watts ended the top of the in­ning in ter­rific style by strik­ing out Athens’ last bat­ter, leav­ing three run­ners stranded on base and Athens down 4-1.

In a scratch-your-head move, Wat­son, who had been the hero of the con­test so far for New­ton, was taken out by Digby in the bot­tom of the fourth in­ning. As a re­sult New­ton wasn’t able to put any runs on the board in the fourth.

“You have to play your subs two in­nings, ev­ery­body’s got to bat one time,” Digby said. “When push comes to shove I got faith in all of our kids, that’s worked the whole tour­na­ment. That be­ing said, if I had to put him in later in the game he’s still there.”

Digby’s de­ci­sion to take Wat­son out didn’t look so good af­ter Athens man­aged to take a 5-4 lead by scor­ing four runs in the fifth in­ning, in­clud­ing a three­run homer de­spite a New­ton pitch­ing change from Watts to Gates.

The bot­tom of the fifth would end up just like the bot­tom of the first for New­ton. Af­ter be­ing quiet of­fen­sively for most of the game, Chris­tian Davis got into the home run con­test with a solo shot to tie the game at five.

Sambo Bur­ton and Jaden La­ti­more got into the ac­tion as well. Bur­ton recorded a dou­ble and La­ti­more posted a sin­gle to put run­ners at the cor­ners. JD Coltharp wasn’t go­ing to leave his team­mates hang­ing. Coltharp lobbed one just over the sec­ond base­men, but the fielder was able to make a beau­ti­ful div­ing catch to pre­vent a run from scor­ing and keep the game tied.

Athens was look­ing to do to New­ton what New­ton had just done to them and es­cape the in­ning with min­i­mal dam­age, but Hines had other things on his agenda. Hines vaulted one in deep cen­ter, and just like that it was out of here. A three-run homer to put New­ton up 8-5 and force an Athens pitch­ing change.

That was all she wrote. In the sixth in­ning, the only high­light was the loud roars from the New­ton crowd cheer­ing on the 9/10 team play­ing on the op­po­site field, that was bat­tling back to tie their game ver­sus Oconee at 3-3. They went on to fall 4-3, but not for lack of ef­fort.

The 12U New­ton All­Stars are headed to state in Warner Robins.

“I’ve been do­ing this for 15 years and I’ve had eight all-star teams, that’s the best one,” Digby said proudly as he choked up a lit­tle.

Af­ter the game, Digby told his team that most teams have three or four play­ers that can change a game, but he said New­ton has 12 play­ers that could change a game.

“It’s great,” Digby said. “These kids worked hard for three weeks. When we came in this tour­na­ment no­body was talk­ing about us. That was a chip on our shoul­der. We’re New­ton’s de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons.”

“We’re not as strong as we were last year, fast as we were last year. We don’t have the pitch­ing or the hit­ting,” Digby said. “We showed up for these four games and you just saw some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

Digby said that in his first prac­tice with the team it was the worst prac­tice he’d ever had. Af­ter that prac­tice he said that they all sat down and had a heartto- heart. He told them they needed to get bet­ter ev­ery day, and the team has echoed that sen­ti­ment since that day.

Sha­keem Hol­loway /The Cov­ing­ton News

The 12U New­ton All-Stars won the 2014 Lit­tle League District Cham­pi­onship by beat­ing Athens 8-5 in a thriller. New­ton will head to Warner Robins to com­pete for the state cham­pi­onship be­gin­ning July 19.

Sha­keem Hol­loway /The Cov­ing­ton News

Head coach Brian Digby (back row, mid­dle) and his team with their new 2014 Lit­tle League District Cham­pi­onship ban­ner.

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