(Editor’s Note: A full story complete will appear in the Sunday edition of the Newnan Times-Herald).
The Newnan Cougars’ baseball team might have felt like it was on a roller coaster ride this season.
Unlike last year when Newnan played its way to an undefeated 15-0 region record and a league championship, the 2019 campaign was filled with some tough losses and challenges moments.
Thursday night, however, in the third meeting with archrival East Coweta, the Cougars put all that adversity in their rearview mirror, knocking off the Indians 7-2 to claim their second straight Region 2-7A title.
“There’s a target when you’re at the top. And it’s a lot easier to fight and get it than to defend it. And I’m really proud of these kids to defend a region title,” head coach Marc Gilmore said. This one means a lot more because things didn't always go our way."
Both teams entered the regular-season finale at Joe Pope Field with identical 13-2 region records.
With the region title, the Cougars enter the playoffs as the N o. 1 seed, while East Coweta will go into the postseason as the No. 2 seed.
Both teams will open the best-of-three playoffs at home next week.
The rivals split the first two games with each other and also were both upset by Campbell in games that sent shockwaves around the region.
Thursday’s contest marked the return of pitcher Jaxon O’Neal who hadn’t pitched in nearly three weeks for the Cougars.
Although he left the game when it was tied at 2-all and didn’t figure in the decision, he pitched 3 ⅓ innings and looked flawless at times, throwing 65 pitches and striking out eight.
From there, Newnan turned the ball over to Jake Martin who put together a 3 ⅔ -inning masterpiece, striking out seven and walking just two.
O’Neal and Martin have given the Cougars a 1-2 pitching punch throughout the season, even though both have battled injuries.
O'Neal admits that the some of the loses made the Cougars stronger.
“It was like we were getting shocked when we’d lose baseball games and we kind of had to realize it’s gonna happen, but we can still go out and do this and win a region championship,” he said.
O’Neal began the game with seven strikeouts in the first three innings.
The Cougars started the scoring with two runs in the bottom of the second.
Everett Davis and Woody Waters reached in back-to-back singles and scored when Tucker Barnett reached on an error.
O’Neal made his only mistake of the game in the top of the fourth when he gave up a two-run homer to Logan Frady.
Landon Underhill scored ahead of Frady after reaching on a single.
The Cougars scored four runs in the fifth and one in the sixth to pull away from the Indians.
Gilmore gives the credit for the pitching staff's siccess to pitching coach Mitch Williams.
The pitchers are also buying in.
“He’s a lifesaver. We really didn’t have anybody to help guide us through and push us,” Martin said
Davis led the Cougars offensive firepower with three hits and two RBIs.
The third-base man is a student of the game and he has a unique approach to his at bats.
“I really focused on Michael [Maginnis] before me and watch his at bats, because normally how they face him is likely to be how they approach me as well. I just followed what pitches they called for him,” said Davis, who trimmed down in the offseason and earned a starting job at third. “If I saw they followed up a curveball for a fastball if he didn’t make the pitch, I was hunting that.”
He also made a leaping catch on a line drive from his third base spot in the fifth inning.
Waters finished with two hits for the Cougars.
J.J. Freed started the game from the mound for the Indians and finished with four strikeouts.