It took seven years, but the Newnan Cougars baseball team finally completed its climb back to the top of the region mountain, beating visiting Wheeler 4-1 Friday night at Joe Pope Field.
With the victory, Newnan gave veteran head coach Marc Gilmore his first region title and assured the Cougars the No.1 seed when the playoffs start in two weeks.
The way the GHSA Class 7-A bracket is set up, Newnan will open the state playoffs against an at-large team in a best-of-three series.
The Cougars dethroned long-time region champion and rival East Coweta and won their first region title since 2011.
It’s a feat that seems to come along every seven years, because the Cougars also won a region title in 2004.
“You have to give them credit, because they have had it on the eastside for a long time,” Gilmore said of East Coweta. “They do a great job, and they will continue to do a great job, but for us, it’s special because it has been awhile.”
For Newnan, the 2018 season has been about goal settings.
“This was something our seniors set out to do before the start of the season,” Gilmore said. “This is also for [former coach] Kenny Morris, everybody who has worn a Newnan uniform and the entire community.”
The victory gave Newnan its 20th win of the season (20-7, 13-0). The Cougars have won six of their last seven games.
Pitcher Jake Martin helped secure the region title for the Cougars with six solid innings. Martin allowed just five hits while striking out eight.
Both teams finished with five hits, but Newnan took advantage of timely offense, scoring once in the first and second and never looking back.
The Cougars added two insurance runs in the fourth.
Wheeler had its chances throughout the game including in the first inning when Jeff Norman and Gabe Ahn reached on two-out singles and advanced into scoring position on a ball that got to the backstop.
Martin, however, regrouped and got the next Wheeler batter to strike out swinging.
Newnan took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when Elliott Schubertt led off the inning with a walk. Thomas Collins moved Schubert over to second on a sacrifice bunt.
Will Wilbanks then brought Schubert into score with a base hit.
The Cougars increased the lead to 2-0 with help from the bottom of the order.
Woody Waters reached on a one out single and then came into score on Austin White’s double.
Martin had command of his pitches in the middle innings, striking out at least one batter in the second, third and fourth.
His strikeout in the second came after he ran the count full.
He also set down two Wheeler batters with strikeouts in the third and fifth innings to go along with his pitching masterpiece.
The Cougars added their final two runs of the game in the fourth inning on RBIs from Schubert and Max Wilson, who was pinch hitting.
Wheeler started a small rally attempt in the top of the seventh inning after Brian Yapkowitz led off with a single, but relief pitcher Logan Hudson helped retire the next three batters, including the final out with a strikeout.
The newly crowned region champs still have two region games remaining on their schedule, including at Pebblebrook on Tuesday and at East Coweta on Thursday.
The Cougars close out the regular season with a non-region game at Troup next Friday.
“We are not going to let up,” Gilmore said. “We want to win these games.”
Cougars 4, Lions 0
Wheeler 000 000 0—053
Newnan—110 200 0—451