By Rocky Higginbotham / Special to The Star
Through the years, Newton County’s softball team has used the “survive and advance” mode quite successfully in the postseason.
That’s exactly what the Lady Cougars did here Tuesday night in the first round of the MHSAA Class 4A slow-pitch state playoffs.
Newton County fought through a sometimes-sloppy performance which included nine uncharacteristic errors, as the Lady Cougars swept a best-of-three series from visiting Quitman -- winning both games by identical 13-8 scores.
The Lady Cougars, who improved to 22-4 on the year, will host Purvis in a South State semifinal series Saturday beginning at 2 p.m. West Lauderdale and Lawrence County will meet in Collinsville at the same time on the other side of the South State bracket.
Quitman, which was ranked No. 1 in the High School Sports in Mississippi Class 4A poll just a couple of weeks ago, finished 22-7.
“There are no easy outs on our side of the bracket this year,” Newton County coach Justin Chaney said. “It wasn’t a very typical night for us; but we found a way to win and move on. And we beat a pretty dang good team in the process, too.”
In the opener, Quitman had the bases loaded and no one out in the top of the first inning. But the Lady Panthers managed just one run, and that 1-0 lead was their only advantage of the night.
Newton County answered with three runs in the home half of the first, then scored four times each in the fourth and sixth frames. The Lady Cougars had 16 hits, but stranded 13 baserunners.
“We preach the two-out hits, especially this time of year,” Chaney said. “But we didn’t have as many as I would have liked tonight.”
Latesia Davis was three-for-four with four RBIs to lead Newton County. Darby Bishop was also three-for-four, while Ashton Lampton was three-for-five with two doubles, two runs and two RBIs. Savannah Gates was two-for-four with a double and two runs, Shea Alexander was two-for-two with a double and Hannah May was the winning pitcher.
Mallory Lee was three-for-three with two runs scored, losing pitcher Hannah Hampton was also three-for-three and Kallie Belcher had a pair of hits and two RBIs to lead Quitman.
In the second game, Newton County was the visiting team on the scoreboard and jumped to a 5-0 lead before Quitman ever had a turn at-bat. Lampton was 3-for-5 with a pair of solo home runs and three runs scored and Bishop was 3-for-4 with a triple and two runs to lead the way.
Mary Snowden was 2-for-3 with two runs scored; Shelby Barrett and winning pitcher Meagan Higginbotham both had two base hits; Lindsey Savell had a pinch-hit, two-run double; and RoNeisha Brown -- who was intentionally walked 10 consecutive times in the series — scored a pair of runs.
Kevie Smith smacked a three-run homer for Quitman, which also got a single and double from Abigail Toomey. Hampton and Hannah Lafferty each added a pair of singles for the Lady Panthers.