COVINGTON - Despite ending the season by being swept by Lowndes 12-0, 7-1 in the first round of the Class AAAAA baseball state playoffs, Newton made great strides under first-year head coach Ty Hensley.
Even with an overall record below .500 (9-17), the one thing Hensley is most proud of is the way the team continued to battle and never gave up.
"After losing during the playoffs in the first game, they battled in the second game and never went down quietly just like they had all season," Hensley said. "They were truly a team of heart and played the sport with compassion like it has always been played. They truly had class and lots of integrity. I really enjoyed it."
Hensley led Newton to its first playoff appearance in three years and won the games that counted, even in a loss.
In the final home game of the season, Newton and Redan were battling for the No. 4 seed. Even though the Rams lost 17-13, they were able to keep the margin of loss below the runs needed to give them the edge over Redan in the standings.
"I had no doubt," Hensley said about making the playoffs. "We reached our team goal of making the playoffs. We did not attain the top two seeds like we had originally hoped."
Chris Moss, Nick Hembree and Darius Hill shared the majority of the pitching responsibilities for the season.
Moss, who pitched 27 innings, led the squad in strikeouts with 25 followed by Hembree (19) and Hill (18). Hembree logged the most innings on the mound with 421/3, while Hill had 392/3.
Offensively, junior catcher Clay Johnson was a force to be reckoned with. With a .329 batting average, Johnson paced the team with 30 RBIs and tied Brian Breckon with seven extra-base hits. He also tied Hembree with three home runs.
D.J. Hill had the highest batting average - a .360 - followed by Hembree (.356), Job Cannon (.348) and Johnson.
"Our verbal leaders were Jason Knight, Job Cannon and Ethan Robertson. Our non-verbal were Clay Johnson and D.J. Hill," Hensley added. "The first three just always stayed positive and kept us in the game no matter what the score and the later led with their bats and by making the plays."
Of the 17 losses by the Rams, five of those were determined by a two-run margin.
"These boys had a lot of heart and were easy to coach. I was just hoping for a better seed," Hensley said. "We'll get it done next year."
Manny Fils can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.