COVINGTON — Six games, six losses.
Entering play Wednesday evening, no Newton softball team had ever felt the thrill of victory while playing the Archer Tigers, who held a 6-0 all-time record against the Rams dating back to 2016.
Outscored 67-15 in those six meetings, it was evident from the opening inning against the Tigers that a seventh consecutive loss was not going to happen.
A brilliant performance in the circle from sophomore Hayden Pearson, coupled with aggressive baserunning, timely hitting and stellar defense was the perfect recipe for the Rams en route to a 4-0 shutout of the Tigers.
Pearson’s sixth victory of the season saw her go the distance, tossing seven innings of 7-hit, no-run ball while striking out three. Her shutout in the circle marked her second of the season.
“Without Hayden, this could have been a whole different ball game,” Newton head coach Virginia Tucker-Smith said. “This is a big deal for them. This is new territory. Archer has always been right behind Grayson. It’s always the two untouchables and we can’t ever seem to be able to get over the hump. This just puts a little more confidence in our heads moving forward.”
The Rams (8-3, 3-1) wasted little time in grabbing a 1-0 lead over the Tigers in the bottom of the first. After coaxing a nine-pitch walk, Newton leadoff hitter Mariah Williams promptly stole second and third, but two popouts left the senior standing on third base with two outs.
In stepped Kaitlyn Neely, who on the first pitch of the at-bat laced a ball into shallow right field to score Williams standing up.
Two shutdown innings apiece from Pearson and Tigers’ starter Mallory Tullis sent the game into the third inning with the Rams clinging to a 1-0 lead, but insurance for the home team soon followed.
With Williams leading off the third inning, the senior reached base safely again, this time after taking a Tullis pitch to her side. Two pitches later, Williams stole second for her third steal of the game and later reached third on a Pearson bunt single.
One pitch into Ty’Liyah Hardeman’s at-bat, Pearson took second without a throw, giving the Rams’ shortstop the green light to cut it loose. On the next pitch she saw from Tullis, a deep fly ball to left allowed both runners to tag, scoring Williams in the process.
“I’m going to miss her speed more than anything,” Tucker-Smith said of Williams. “What do you do with that? You just sit there with your mouth open and watch her. It’s so easy for her.”
Leading 2-0, Tullis was pulled by Tigers’ head coach Emily Wilson, who called upon right-hander Kailynn James to get them out of the jam. Needing two outs, James got both in consecutive batters, but not before a Neely SAC fly to left scored Pearson on a close play at the plate.
Neely finished the night 1-for-2 with two of the Rams’ four RBIs.
Through four clean innings, Pearson escaped the fifth without surrendering a run despite a 2-out triple from Tigers’ leadoff hitter Taylor Anderson.
The hard hit ball into the right-centerfield gap likely would have scored a run if not for Pearson’s third strikeout of the game on batter prior.
Pearson’s sixth inning of work ended in fireworks after Archer’s Mackenzie Martin was gunned out at third base by Williams to end the inning. Looking to turn a double into a triple with two outs, Williams’ throw from center was caught by Rams third baseman Allyriah Russell, who then dove to tag out Martin on a close play at the bag.
None too pleased with the out call, Wilson voiced her displeasure in her slow walk back to the Tigers’ dugout.
Looking to add further insurance prior to Pearson’s final inning, the Rams got what they were looking for thanks to a Tigers error at first base.
Following Kyla Stroud’s second hit of the game, the freshman later scored on an infield single from Madison McDaniel, who then watched as an error allowed her to score from third with ease, increasing the Rams’ lead to 4-0.
Pearson worked around a 2-out hit and ended the game just like it began, with a popup to Hardeman at shortstop.
“Overall, as far as offense, defense, pitching and executing, getting people moved over and getting them in when you have them on third base, all of that hasn’t come together many times for us this season,” Tucker-Smith said. “So to have it tonight in this kind of game knowing that we’re really working hard for that No. 2 seed, this is the best outcome. Especially for the girls. Anytime a first happens, it’s always nice. These seniors deserve it.”The Rams’ 4-0 shutout of the Tigers marks their third of region play and moves them into sole possession of second place behind Grayson. Prior to Wednesday, the Tigers hadn’t been shutout in region play in five years.