By Jamie Wachter / Sports Editor
The Meridian Star
If it feels like they've been here before, it's because they have been.
For the third time in four seasons, Newton County and West Lauderdale meet with a trip to Jackson and the Class 4A slow-pitch state championship series on the line. Newton County, the two-time defending state champion, has history on its side — it's won the previous two matchups against its rival — when the Cougars visit Collinsville for a 5 p.m. start to the best-of-3 series.
"Yeah, we've kind of been here before," West coach Cary Luke said. "It's almost a little deja vu action.
"I pretty much had an idea that Newton County would be here but to be honest with you, early in the season, I would have been shocked if you had told me we would be playing for one. But we've improved and some of our young girls have stepped up and gotten better. We've improved each week and that's what you ask of them."
But the Knights have that home-field advantage on their side. And while that might not be much, Luke will take it.
"I like play them at our place a whole lot more than having to go over there," he said. "It won't be easy and we'll have to get some big two-out hits and minimize mistakes and play good defense. Then, maybe we can squeak two out."
One thing for certain is there won't be any secrets between the former division foes. After all the showdowns, the Knights know what to expect from the 29-1 Cougars. And likewise, Newton County knows what 18-9 West brings to the table.
"They're going to be gritty," Newton County coach Justin Chaney added. "They have five seniors, so they have a lot of experience out there and coach Luke does a great job with them and they are so well-coached. There won't be any secrets to either side. It ought to be fun. We've got to go over there and do the best we can."
With so much familiarity, every play is crucial. And those past meetings don't matter, only the two or three games to come today.
"At this point, you feel pretty good but it's a new day and a new series and each series is different in its own way," Chaney said. "As far as going into the games, I think we'll have some confidence but we'll have to see if we can carry it over into this next series. If we do that, we'll have a chance. If not, it could be a long night. But we both know each other what we're both going to do and it's just going to come down to who does all the keys that we think it takes to be successful in the game."
The Cougars displayed those traits Saturday to dispatch of Quitman, the Division 5-4A champion. Newton County held the Panthers to just seven hits, made only one error and scored the bulk of its runs with two outs. It was a textbook performance in how to win in the playoffs.
"They're 29-1 for a reason," Luke said. "They can play. They've been there and they can make all the plays and they can swing it. They've got girls that have been there before."
Said Chaney: "If you had told me at this point last year that we'd be right back here, I'd have took it. There's just so much uncertainty and it's a credit to our young ladies. They deserve it because they work hard and they should be commended up to this point. But we've still got some unfinished business to take care of and it's going to be a tough road for us."
A tough road indeed as the Knights also have girls that have been there before as well. At least here before. And West showed that experience and know-how Saturday as well. After losing the first game to North Pike, the Knights trailed the entire way in Game 2 before breaking out for three runs in the seventh to edge the Jaguars 3-2. West again trailed 2-0 late in Game 3 before the Knights scored five times in the sixth to again find a way.
"We're just glad to be in this spot and have a chance," Luke said. "We'll have to have some balls fall our way but we have a chance and that's a lot more than some other teams have right now.
"Now we just have to win two games and advance and crazy things can happen. But we've got a shot."