By Rocky Higginbotham / Special to The Star
The Meridian Star
Newton County softball coach Justin Chaney stressed last week there were no easy outs in the MHSAA Class 4A state slow-pitch playoffs this season.
Judging from the Cougars’ first-round battle Tuesday night with Lawrence County, he was right.
Newton County earned a pair of hard-fought, three-runs wins against Lawrence County to win its first-round, best-of-three playoff series — taking 9-6 and 14-11 victories against a team which simply would not go away.
“Survive and advance, that’s what you’ve got to do. There aren’t going to be any easy ones left,” Chaney said. “That team we just beat wasn’t bad. They hit the ball and they didn’t quit.
“Hey, it was ugly out there at times tonight. But our girls stepped up when they had to and got two wins and that’s what matters.”
The sweep pushed two-time defending Class 4A state champion Newton County to 27-1 on the season and sets up a big area showdown with Quitman in the next round. The Cougars will host the Panthers on Saturday in a second-round, best-of-three series tentatively set for 1 p.m.
Lawrence County, the Division 7-4A runnerup, finished 17-11.
Newton County, the 6-4A champ which just had a 68-game winning streak snapped last week, only trailed for an inning-and-a-half Tuesday night at Mack Fanning Softball Stadium. But the visiting Cougars from Monticello kept the outcome of both games in doubt.
In the opener, Tiana Dampeer hit a towering, three-run homer in the first inning to give Lawrence County a 3-0 advantage.
Newton County answered with a two-run shot off the bat of RoNeisha Brown in the bottom of the first, then went off for six runs in the second inning to take the lead for good.
Brown was 2-for-2 with her homer, while Savannah Gates and winning pitcher Meagan Higginbotham were also 2-for-2 for Newton County. Ashton Lampton added two doubles and two RBIs while Darby Bishop had two singles and two RBIs.
Dampeer was 3-for-3 to lead Lawrence County, while Jazmin Thomas had two doubles.
In the second game, Newton County — the visiting team on the scoreboard — erupted for seven runs in the top of the fifth inning to turn a 3-2 lead into a 10-2 bulge.
The Cougars went on to score four more times in the top of the seventh to stretch their advantage to 14-3. But Lawrence County staged an unlikely eight-run rally in the bottom of the seventh inning — scoring all eight times after two were out.
Jamie Martin and Alexsundria Thomas both went 3-for-4 to lead Lawrence County in the second game, while Julian Johnson homered, doubled and drove in three runs.
Lampton was 3-for-5 with a homer, double, five RBIs and three runs for Newton County — while Hannah May and Latesia Davis both went 3-for-4 with a double each. May drove in two, while Davis scored twice.
Shea Alexander ripped two doubles and drove in a pair, Bishop had a single and double, Higginbotham (25-1) got the win on the mound and also went 2-for-3 with two runs and Gates also added two hits and two runs.