New­ton All-Stars win state

The Covington News - - SPORTS - SHA­KEEM HOL­LOWAY shol­loway@cov­

Down 5-1 in the state cham­pi­onship game in the bot­tom of the sev­enth in­ning, the New­ton All-Stars (14U) had two choices: lose the game, forc­ing a sec­ond and fi­nal game for the ti­tle or win the game and claim the state cham­pi­onship. The first choice wasn’t an op­tion.

“I was think­ing who are we gonna pitch in the next game? Who have we got avail­able? Who will best give us the op­por­tu­nity to win the next game and that’s kind of where I was at,” Tim Howard, New­ton County All-Stars coach, re­call of his mind­set down 5-1 in the bot­tom of the sev­enth. “Hope­fully, with the back of my mind think­ing, well maybe we can pick up four runs here, but I re­ally was think­ing about what we were gonna do.”

Net­won had been in a nail­biter just the day be­fore, de­feat­ing West Ge­or­gia on a walk-off dou­ble 3-2, so this was noth­ing new to them. The op­pos­ing team, Columbia, would have to beat the All-Stars twice, but New­ton County didn’t let that hin­der them from pour­ing in 100 per­cent.

Howard was of­fer­ing his sug­ges­tions to the team man­ager, Greg Shirley be­fore Lo­gan Brake, Cory Borg and Mike Mathi­son loaded the bases from third to first re­spec­tively. Tim Howard was all in at that point. Car­son Howard fired a grounder to third that was bob­bled and al­lowed Brake to score with the bases loaded yet again.

Erik Shirley stepped to the plate and with con­fi­dence, hit a triple to cen­ter to clear the bases and tie the game at 5-5. Un­for­tu­nately, New­ton County couldn’t muster another mag­i­cal run, and the game went into ex­tra in­nings.

Columbia re­sponded might­ily, scor­ing three runs in the top of the eighth in­ning and ef­fec­tively putting all the pres­sure back on New­ton.

“When they came back and went up three

again I thought, ‘ Well, it’s just not meant to be in this game,’” Tim Howard said.

“They were com­ing back in, their heads were down,” Howard re­calls. “Greg said, ‘We did it last in­ning, we can do it this in­ning. We’re start­ing off with the same bat­ters. Let’s take it one at a time, one bat­ter at a time. No­body try to power it up, hit home­runs. Let’s just get peo­ple on, be dis­ci­plined at the plate, don’t swing at bad pitches and make ‘em throw strikes.’ Once that first bat­ter got on base then the kids would re­ally get in­volved and think, ‘Oh, I’ve got a shot at this.’”

New­ton fol­lowed suit with al­most an ex­act replica of re­sults from the sev­enth in­ning. Brake and Borg walked while Mathi­son was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Car­son Howard walked and scored Brake and Erik Shirley fol­lowed that up with a sac fly to cen­ter to score Borg. Blake Jor­dan would knot the game up at 8-8 with another sac fly that scored Mathi­son.

The teams went score­less for another three in­nings. In the 11th in­ning Columbia took another lead, this time by two runs.

Erik Shirley started off the bot­tom of the 11th with a sin­gle to cen­ter. McClain All­good fol­lowed with a shot to sec­ond and an er­ror meant run­ners at the corners. McClain got caught steal­ing sec­ond so Shirley was left alone at third. Ryan Shirley came up to the plate and hit an RBI sin­gle to score Erik.

Ryan was caught steal­ing soon af­ter and with two outs down one, hope seemed dim. Aron Cox watched four balls go by to put a run­ner on first. Blake Wilder fol­lowed with a triple to tie the game be­fore Brake recorded the last out of the in­ning.

The 12th in­ning would be the fi­nal in­ning. Columbia blasted a home­run across the fence to go up by one run.

Borg opened the in­ning with a dou­ble and Mathi­son fol­lowed it up with a sin­gle, yet again putting run­ners at the corners for New­ton County. Car­son Howard struck out, giv­ing the All- Stars their first out of the in­ning. Erik Shirley would be walked in­ten­tion­ally, load­ing the bases for All­good.

Here’s where things got a lit­tle crazy. All­good fires a shot to third, who throws it home, but it gets mis­played by the catcher al­low­ing Borg to score and tie the game. As the ball bounces past the catcher, Mathi­son makes a run for home from third base. The throw was too late and Mathi­son crossed the thresh­old, win­ning the game for New­ton.

“Mike is one of those spe­cial play­ers,” Tim Howard said. “He plays the out­field for us, he’s got quick hands, he’s very fast, very quiet, a smart baserun­ner and I knew if we could get him on that we could score him from sec­ond base on any­thing in the out­field. He made some great plays in left field for us to save some runs, so those things add up as well.”

“Ev­ery in­ning was nerver­ack­ing, very nerver­ack­ing,” Howard added.

Af­ter ev­ery­thing the team went through, Howard felt des­tiny was on their side. McClain, who had been on the bench for most of the game got his chance be­cause of an in­jury to another player. He was un­der a lot of pres­sure with run­ners in scor­ing po­si­tion and just one out. Howard told him to make a play and he did.

Howard says that the win was a group ef­fort and that ev­ery­body con­trib­uted. In the be­gin­ning Howard and man­ager Greg Shirley felt if they could get all of the kids to play they would have a spe­cial team. They got all of the kids they wanted and with them came good pitch­ing and speed. Un­der Greg, the All-Stars be­came ag­gres­sive on the bases, they even run-ruled some teams.

The team now get the op­por­tu­nity to com­pete in the World Se­ries.

“We know that we’re tak­ing a good team to the world se­ries, but we also know that ev­ery other state is as well,” Tim Howard said. “We’ll have to play our best ball, we’re gonna have to pitch well, but we’re gonna have to hit well. Ev­ery team’s gonna have good pitch­ing and we’re gonna have to play de­fense and hit the ball well. This is a spe­cial team.”

“We feel like we’ve got a good team. We can com­pete with any­body and we’re just gonna keep play­ing ball like we did in the state tour­na­ment,” Tim Howard added. “I think the kids know now that they can play ball with any­body even if they get down. It’s no prob­lem, we’ll just do like we’ve al­ways done.”

FRONT ROW, LEFT-RIGHT: McClain All­good, Erick Shirley, Car­son Howard, Ryan Shirley, Gavin Keys, Corey Borg. BACK ROW, LEFT-RIGHT: Coach Robert Bales, Blake Wilder, Man­ager Greg Shirley, Aron Cox, Lo­gan Brake, Reese Bales, Blake Jor­dan, Mike Mathi­son, Coach Tim A. Howard.

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