Even though the Newton County All-Stars didn't hold the Dixie Boys World Series trophy over their heads in victory, these kids are definitely winners in every sense of the word.
They already had pressure on them just by being the host team. The other 11 teams representing their states had to go through qualifiers to get to the World Series. The Newton County team got in just because it hosted the event. In the eyes of some people, it shouldn't have been here or at the least would probably go two-and-out in the double elimination tournament.
It didn't start well with Newton County losing to Texas (Livingston) 4-1 to start the tournament. But rather than give up, Newton County came from behind to beat Mississippi (Laurel-Jones County) 7-5. That win no doubt gave the team confidence as it run-ruled Virginia (Halifax County) 15-0 before eliminating South Carolina (Sumter) 9-3 later the same day.
If playing in one doubleheader wasn't enough, Newton did it again the next day.
After holding off Alabama (Opelika) to get a 4-3 win in the morning, the All-Stars came back that evening before losing 5-3 to West Georgia (Columbus) in the championship game.
For a team to lose the opening game then fight its way back through the bottom bracket to play in the championship game is amazing. Of the six teams that lost their first games, only Newton County and North Carolina (Hope Mills) fought their way back to play in the semifinals. North Carolina was eliminated by West Georgia 14-7 to set up the championship game.
These players showed a great deal of integrity to never give up even when playing a West Georgia team that all but dominated everyone they played. West Georgia had more runs than any other team, scoring 58 runs and the most home runs with seven. They also had the highest number of runners on base with 92 and the lowest ERA for the tournament with a 1.79.
While some players shined individually, making it to the championship game was truly a team effort. In the game against Mississippi, Newton County was trailing 5-1 when a solo home run by Marquell Stevens gave the team the spark they needed to pull ahead and get the win. In its next game, Newton County was on the verge of losing a 3-0 lead against Virginia as it loaded the bases with one out. That was when Blake Shope took over on the mound, striking out the batters for the two final outs.
Hopefully the lessons learned by these boys is something that they can look to for the rest of their lives even though they didn't win. The lesson they should have picked up is never to quit even when things look bad. If they had just given up, they would have folded against Mississippi and they could have let Virginia back in the game. But no, they depended on each other, becoming the envy of nine other teams.
With any luck, Gray Ritchie, Nick Womack, Mike Terry, Austin Taylor, Conner Hewell, Hunter Phillips, Jared and Jake Jones, Philip Rowe and DJ Powell will get their chance to face some of these West Georgia players again but this time with different results in the Georgia High School baseball state championship game.
Manny Fils is a sports writer for The Citizen. Fils can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.