It took the bats a few innings to wake up.
When they did, however, it was the same story for Newton County High School in Game 2 as it was in Game 1 — a blowout win.
After winning the first game of the MHSAA Class 4A state title series against Houston High School Friday, 16-0, the Lady Cougars maintained a 1-1 tie with the Lady Hilltoppers through the fourth inning. Then Newton County went on to score nine more runs en route to a 10-1 win Saturday and a state championship. It marked the 16th softball championship overall for Newton County, and its eighth fast-pitch title, as well as the 11th title for head coach Justin Chaney.
“It never gets old, and the reason being is, it’s always a new team,” Chaney said. “Different season, different people doing different things. It’s because they work so extremely hard (that they won). To see them be able to smile is great. It’s all about them — we (coaches) just sit over there and try to guide them.”
Newton County starter Darby Bishop Jr. got the win, improving her record to an astounding 44-0 as a pitcher over the last two seasons. She gave up one run on five hits with five strikeouts in seven innings of work.
Bishop admitted she was a bit worried after she gave up the first run — a solo home run by Chelsea Gates in the first at-bat of the game — but she settled in to strike out the next three batters and didn’t yield another run the rest of the game.
“I was like, ‘Oh crap,’ because I knew they were going to come out swinging,” Darby said. “I just started throwing strikes and moving the ball better after that first batter. My drop curve and my screwball started spinning after that one pitch.”
Down 1-0 in the bottom of the first, Darby helped her cause by smacking a solo home run of her own over the right field fence to tie the game. Darby had to keep the Houston hitters at bay for several innings before the bats woke up, but she said she was never worried about her team’s ability to score runs.
“I knew we would start getting runs after we saw (their pitcher) a few times,” she said.
With two runners on in the bottom of the fourth, Newton County’s Hannah May attempted to bunt them over to second and third. But the bunt made it through the hole in the first-base side, resulting in a double and two runs scored. Three more runs scored when Ashton Lampton had a single in center field that drove in two, and a fielding miscue by Houston allowed Lampton to come all the way around to home, making it 6-1 Lady Cougars.
A two-RBI single by Bishop in the bottom of the fifth made it 8-1 Newton County, and Abby Reeves scored in the bottom of the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Shelby Barrett. A double by May scored Savannah Gates for Newton County’s final run.
The win was extra special for both May and Gates, Newton County’s only seniors. It was their sixth state championship as members of the team, but also their last game of high school ball.
“It’s kind of bittersweet, because you don’t want it to end, but it’s such a good thing that happens, you just can’t help but be happy,” May said. “I’ve known (Gates) since elementary school, and I’ve played with her for all these years. It’s just been amazing, because we’ve grown closer, and we’re like sisters.”
Said Gates, “We’ve been here every year since seventh grade, me and Hannah, and we work out butts off to get here every year, so it feels amazing.”
Gates added that she would miss being a Lady Cougar, but she was happy the team was able to win its final game.
“It’s really sad,” Gates said, fighting tears. “Monday will probably be worse when I turn in all my stuff. It’ll be tough to tell all my friends goodbye.”
Chaney said he was proud of May and Gates for the work they put in, and there isn’t a better way to send them off than with a state championship.
“They’re going to leave their high school career on top,” Chaney said. “There can’t be a greater feeling in the world. For them to go through high school and win six state championships, that’s pretty remarkable. Some kids don’t even get a chance to win one.”
Darby finished 3-for-3 at the plate with a home run and a double, and Lampton was 2-for-2 with a double. May went 2-for-4 with two doubles, and Gates was 2-for-3. Dalericka King finished 2-for-4 and Barrett went 2-for-3.
For Houston, Gates went 2-for-3 with a home run, and Taylor Lancaster finished 2-for-4. Lancaster was the starter for Houston, lasting just one inning and giving up one run on two hits and one walk. Madeline Burdine took the loss, surrendering nine runs on 13 hits in six innings of work.
Newton County finished the season with a 34-4 record. Darby was recently given the Popstar Fast-pitch Award by the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
It took the bats a few innings to wake up.
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