LAWRENCEVILLE -- Newton head softball coach Virginia Tucker-Smith knew long before her team took the field at Archer Tuesday evening that the hosts would be ready after their 4-0 shutout loss to the Rams in their first meeting two weeks ago.
Unfortunately for Tucker-Smith and the Rams, she was right.
Behind a 4-hit, 10-strikeout performance in the circle from Archer’s Kailynn James and several costly miscues on defense, the Rams never managed to get rolling in an eventual 5-0 loss to the Tigers, who earned the regular season split with the Rams 1-1.
The loss draws the Rams (13-6, 5-3) into a tie for second place with the Tigers in Region 8-AAAAAAA play with two region games remaining for each team. Barring any drastic changes, a tiebreaker will likely decide the region’s No. 2 seed heading into the region tournament.
“I knew, and I would assume that the girls knew that Archer was ready for us,” Tucker-Smith said. “They came down and were surprised by us the first time around, so I had no doubt that they were going to bring everything today. They capitalized on five errors that we had. We definitely helped them a lot in this game, I feel like.”
With several close calls going the Rams’ way in the opening innings of Tuesday night’s game, a third-inning call in favor of the Tigers came back to bite the Rams in the top of the third.
With runners on first and second with one out, Newton’s Hayden Pearson appeared to be safe at first on a bunt attempt. A safe call at first would have loaded the bases for the Rams with Kaitlyn Neely stepping into the box, but Pearson was called out by the third base umpire.
With both runners advancing on the putout, Neely swung at the first pitch and grounded out to second, ending the threat for the Rams.
Pearson, the Rams’ starting pitcher on the night, followed up with two quick outs in the bottom half of the third on just five pitches. Looking to keep the game scoreless heading into the fourth, Pearson walked her next batter with two outs before allowing back-to-back singles, scoring two runs in the process.
With momentum starting to shift in favor of the Tigers, the hosts took advantage of some miscues by the Rams defense in the fourth. After allowing back-to-back singles to begin the inning, an error in right field after a flyout allowed both runners to advance.
The Tigers capitalized and scored their third run of the game on an infield single. They later scored again on a wild pitch from Pearson and a groundout to third, giving Archer a commanding 5-0 lead.
All three runs allowed by Pearson in the fourth inning were unearned.
“We definitely didn’t execute when we had a few runners on,” Tucker-Smith said. “On defense, we kicked the ball around a few times. Overthrew our cutoffs. Just little elementary stuff that we all know better than. At the end of the day, if you don’t have those five errors, it’s not a 5-0 loss. It still might have been a loss, but it wasn’t five.”
Unable to start a rally in either the fifth or sixth innings, Newton loaded the bases in the top of the seventh with two outs. Aaliyah Mitchell led off the inning with a pinch-hit single to center before both Mariah Williams and D’myia Jackson reached safely.
With a chance to come back, the Rams’ rally fell short after Ty’Liyah Hardeman was retired on a bunt attempt, ending the game with a shutout victory for the Tigers.
Neely finished the night with two of the Rams’ four hits and was responsible for gunning out two runners attempting to steal from her catcher position.
Pearson finished her night tossing six innings of 7-hit, 5-run ball. Only two runs were earned.
Tucker-Smith, who was none too pleased with Newton’s performance Tuesday, had a long chat with her team before packing up the bus for the trip home.
“We still have five games left,” Tucker-Smith said. “We still have a chance to be 18-6 going into the region tournament. That’s not a bad place to be. I just want them to clean it up because it’s going to be a long rest of the season, a long region tournament and a long first round of the playoffs if they’re going to play like that.”