By Rocky Higginbotham / Special to The Star
The Meridian Star
Newton County's first-round sweep of Lawrence County in the MHSAA Class 4A state softball playoffs was effective — but it wasn't necessarily the Cougars' best showing of the year.
That was not the case here Saturday at Mack Fanning Softball Stadium. Top-ranked and two-time defending state champ Newton County completely shut down visiting Quitman Saturday, sweeping the Panthers in a best-of-three series with 4-0 and 5-0 wins.
Newton County coach Justin Chaney said his team couldn't have performed any better Saturday following a pair of three-run wins in slugfests with Lawrence County earlier this week.
"I thought today, our team played just like Justin Chaney would want," Chaney grinned. "Everything we could have done, we did. Great pitching, defense, execution, moving runners, two-out hits ...the stuff that we preach every single day in practice — we did it today."
Newton County out-hit Quitman 23-7, made just one error in 14 innings of play and scored seven of its nine runs with two outs.
"I could single out every one of these girls today," Chaney said. "What an unbelievable effort by our defense. Every kid on the field made a big play at some point."
The Cougars, who are now 29-1, will travel to rival West Lauderdale for the Class 4A South State championship series Tuesday. Quitman, which blitzed the competition on its way to a Division 5-4A title, finished 23-7.
Newton County also played with a lead all day, scoring in the first inning of both matchups.
In the opener, the Cougars got a two-out, two-run double from Shea Alexander to get things cranked up in the first inning. Shelby Barrett followed with a double to score Alexander, and Newton County was up 3-0.
The other run came in the fourth, when Meagan Higginbotham, Savannah Gates and Ashley Gressett delivered base hits.
Higginbotham got the pitching win and was 3-for-3 while Barrett was 2-for-3 with a double to pace Newton County. Gattes and Latesia Davis were also 2-for-3, while Gressett, Alexander, RoNeisha Brown and Ashton Lampton all had hits.
Quitman managed just two hits — one each from losing pitcher Hannah Hampton and Chequira Bonner.
In the second game, Newton County — the visiting team on the scoreboard — got hits from Lampton and Brown and a sacrifice fly from Davis to produce a run in the first.
Alexander, Barrett and Lindsey Savell had hits to help push across another run in the fourth, then the Cougars got three insurance runs in the seventh. That's when the Panthers committed a pair of errors and Hannah May, Bishop and Brown all had big hits.
Lampton was 2-for-3 with a double, Brown was 2-for-3 and Bishop had two hits and two runs scored. Alexander had another double and Barrett, Savell and May had Newton County's other hits. Higginbotham (27-1) was the winning pitcher.
Kallie Belcher was 2-for-3 to lead Quitman, which also got a double from Tori Dew and singles from Glenella Odom and Annie Cooks.
"I was really worried about this series," Chaney said. "But our girls stepped up today. I can't say enough about them."