By Rocky Higginbotham / Special to The Star
The Meridian Star
Pitching. Defense. Two-out hits.
Justin Chaney will take them anytime – but especially this time of year. Saturday, they were plentiful for his Newton County fast-pitch softball team.
The homestanding Lady Cougars scored four runs with two outs, got an outstanding effort in the circle from Darby Bishop and didn’t make an error in a 6-2 win over Vancleave – sweeping their best-of-three series in the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs.
“We did come up with some big two-out hits,” Chaney said. “Of course, if we get a couple more, we break the game open. But I’ll take them. We’ve said all along: Two-out hits will win championships.”
Newton County, which won Game 1 of the series 8-0 Friday night at Vancleave, improved to 24-4 with
Saturday’s win. The Lady Cougars will take on division rival West Lauderdale in the Class 4A South State semifinal series beginning Thursday.
Saturday, Ashton Lampton was a single shy of hitting for the cycle, Bishop allowed just four baserunners and the Lady Cougars got a pair of very different home runs to topple the visiting Lady Bulldogs.
Bishop gave up two hits, two runs and hit two batters. But she didn’t allow another baserunner, didn’t walk anyone and struck out five.
“And the thing I like about her is that her demeanor never changes,” Chaney said. “She pitches the same and looks the same whether it’s a 1-0 game or a 10-run game.
“She’s been real consistent, real constant on the mound all year. And to pitch so well less than 24 hours after last night, even in fast-pitch, is impressive.”
Lampton tripled to lead off the bottom of the first, scored on an RBI single from Bishop and Newton County was up for good.
The home runs came in the bottom of the third. Lampton’s was a towering shot that cleared the left-field wall. Latesia Davis followed with an infield hit, but the next two hitters were retired and the Lady Bulldogs looked like they might get out of the inning with no further damage.
But Davis stole second and scored from there when Abby Reeves reached on an error. Savannah Gates followed by lining a shot into center field that was misplayed – and Gates raced all the way around the bases for a two-run, inside-the-park homer to make it 5-0.
Vancleave scored twice in the fourth, with Crystal Moore delivering an RBI single and then scoring when Bridgett Brune ripped a two-out double.
Newton County got an insurance tally in the sixth, when Lampton drew a two-out walk and scored all the way from first on a bloop double by Davis.
Lampton was 3-for-3 with a homer, triple, double and three runs and Davis was 3-for-4 to lead Newton County’s nine-hit attack. Gates had the homer, Bishop an RBI single and Cassidy Blount also had a single.
Kristen Gardner struck out four in a losing cause for Vancleave, which knocked off Richland in its first-round series.