The Meridian Star
PEARL – —
For the Newton County Cougars, their final game of the season couldn’t be bigger: state title or bust.
They forced a Game 3 in the Class 4A championship series with a 2-1 win over Lewisburg in 10 innings on Thursday night at Trustmark Park.
“They never quit fighting,” Cougar head coach Wyatt Tullos said of his team.
Their loss in Game 1 on Wednesday night was their first loss in 13 games. They’d swept their way through the playoff, being a perfect 8-0 entering the state title game as part of their hot streak.
“We played like champions, we just didn’t win the baseball game,” Tullos said after Wednesday’s loss.
With a walk-off win in Game 2, champions they still could be. After the game, Tullos said he told his team it just takes a two game win streak to win a state championship.
A win on Saturday, would be the first 4A title for Newton County. They won the whole thing in 2006 while a member of class 3A.
“It feels real good,” senior pitcher Will Brand said. “It’s not over, gotta win one more, can't celebrate too hard.”
Tullos as continually applauded their effort, which has meant going the distance to make every play count, which Brand proved in Game 2.
“I didn’t think I’d get to pitch again [as a Cougar],” Brand said. “So glad I got to pitch again.”
After throwing just 78 pitches in Game 1, Tullos called on the lefty in relief on Thursday to get out of a bases loaded jam.
With no outs and the go-ahead run on second, Tullos elected to walk the bases loaded to set up the force play. Brand retired the next two batters to end the inning and force extras.
Brand later singled in the bottom of the 10th inning during the game-winning rally.
“Give God glory, we came through in that last inning,” he said. “It’s big, we get to play one more.”
The Cougars, and their fan base, wear their pride on their sleeves and the athletes don’t leave anything on the playing field.
Back-to-back nights, the stands were decked out in Cougar orange using their vocal cords while players flashed leather and got dirty making every slide count.
“My team is great, I wouldn’t trade this team for the world,” Brand said.
The season has had its ups and downs – a slow start, a winning streak, dropping the final divisional series to West Lauderdale, all before blazing through the end of the regular season to find themselves playing at the home of the Mississippi Braves, Trustmark Park – but ending here, Tullos said, proves the guys are always fighting.
Brand will continue his career at Jones Jr. College next season, but to make it this far is special.
“It feels good, one more game as Newton County Cougar, wouldn’t trade nothing in the world for it,” he said.