Meridian Star

October 26, 2013

Cougars grab 15th softball title

By Rocky Higginbotham / Special to The Star
The Meridian Star

RIDGELAND — Death. Taxes. Newton County softball.

    For each October over the past decade, you could bank on Newton County making a trip to the Jackson area to play for a state softball championship. Here Saturday at Freedom Ridge Park, the 2013 edition of the Lady Cougars left with a little more hardware.

    Newton County swept Amory in the MHSAA Class 4A State Championship Series Saturday -- coming from behind to win 12-8 in Game 1 before whipping the Lady Panthers 8-0 in the second contest.

    “When it mattered most, it seemed like this group of girls stepped up to the challenge and responded every time,” Newton County coach Justin Chaney said. “They certainly did today.”

It was the eighth slow-pitch title for Newton County, and the program’s

15th state softball championship in all.

    “Most of these girls … all they’ve ever known is winning,” Chaney said.

    In the wild first game, Newton County banged out 19 base hits and took advantage of eight Amory errors. Still, the Lady Panthers -- who began the game with six consecutive hits -- were in the lead and had the momentum in their favor

until the fifth inning.

    In the second game, Newton County limited the Lady Panthers to just four base hits.

    “We got a few extra outs in that first game and took advantage of them,” Chaney said. “But that second game … that may have been as complete of a game as we played all year. We pitched it, we hit it and we defended it.”

    In the opener, Amory led 4-2 after one inning and 7-5 after three.

    It was 7-6 going ito the fifth, when Newton County scored five times. Shea Alexander, Mary Snowden, Savannah Gates and Latesia Davis started the inning with four straight hits; and AshtonLampton (triple) and RoNeisha Brown (single)delivered run-scoring, two-out hits to push Newton County ahead 11-7.

    Lampton finished with a monster stat line, going 5-for-5 with a triple, two doubles, three runs and two RBIs and Hannah May was 3-for-4 with a double, three runs and two RBIs to lead the attack.

    Gates was also 3-for-4, while Brown was 2-for-3 with four RBIs. Alexander, Snowden and Shelby Barrett had two hits each and Snowden scored twice.

    Bailey Oswalt homered and was 3-for-4 with three runs to lead Amory, while Erin Griffith was 3-for-3. Alex Stevens and Aynslee Willis were both 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs and Oswalt also had two RBIs.

    In Game 2, Newton County scored three runs each in the third and fifth innings and completely shut down Amory -- which entered Saturday with a 10-game winning streak but finished 29-7. Ten different Lady Cougars had base hits in the second game, helping Newton County finish 28-4 on the year.

    Gates led the way by going 3-for-3, while Lampton was 2-for-4 with a double and Barrett 2-for-3 with a double and triple. Snowden, Brown, Alexander, Davis, Darby Bishop, Meagan Higginbotham and Lindsey Savell all had key hits. Snowden and Bishop scored twice, while Higginbotham was the winning pitcher in both contests.

    “That just exemplifies our team right there,” Chaney said. “Every girl contributing.”

Newton County won the fast-pitch title and was the slow-pitch state runnerup without a single senior in the 2012-13 school year. This year’s squad is anchored by six juniors and six seniors -- Ashley Gressett, May Gates, Savell, Snowden and Brown — with some of those seniors now claiming a sixth state title.

    “This is a really remarkable group of girls. The work they put in; the things we demand of them … they’re special,” Chaney said. “I just can’t stress enough what they’ve meant to our program and I’m so proud for them that they’re going out on top.”