May 16, 2018 10:40:13 AM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
South Lamar High School fast-pitch softball coach Matt Newman likes his team's chances this week in the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) Class 1A State tournament.
"We have pretty much become a regular state tournament participant," Matt Newman said. "Three times we have lost in the state championship game. Just haven't been able to win state yet. This year has a chance to be different. This is the best offensive team we have put together here."
Matt's wife, Jennifer, is a math teach at the South Lamar Middle School. She and her husband team up to coach the North Central regional qualifier.
South Lamar (34-6) was scheduled to face Belgreen (21-13) at 9 a.m. Wednesday in its state tournament opener at Lagoon Park in Montgomery, Alabama.
The eight-team, double-elimination event will take place over two days. The state championship game is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
"Each year, there is an excitement when you reach the state tournament," Jennifer Newman said. "You have to have a little bit of luck on your side. Everybody in the community is proud of this group of girls. They have worked hard to win the regional and to make it back to state. We keep knocking on (the championship) door."
Matt Newman became involved in the program when his daughter, Mateline Newman, began playing on the varsity squad in seventh grade. Mateline is a sophomore on the Mississippi University for Women softball team.
"This is four state tournament appearances in those eight seasons," Matt Newman said. "In 2016, Mateline was a senior and the team finished fourth in the state. A year ago, we missed the state tournament. That has been a big motivation to get back."
South Lamar has played a wide variety of opponents, including competition against Class 5A and Class 6A schools.
"That has really helped us out in the past and it helped this team out," Matt Newman said. "The team is battle tested. We have traveled all over the state and faced good competition. For a 1A school, it helps that you have that confidence from playing some of the elite teams in the state."
South Lamar has been ranked No. 2 in Class 1A through the regular season. The Lady Stallions won the Berry Invitation, the Bobcat Classic, the Lamar County tournament, and the Area 9 Tournament.
"Defensively, we are a solid team," Matt Newman said. "That is what we hang our hats on. Usually, the smaller teams have trouble making the plays. We have a pair of 10th-graders who have pitched well. They both threw some as eighth-graders on the last state tournament team."
McKenzie Hollinger and Haylie Crimm are the sophomore pitchers. Their battery mate is eighth-grader Nealy McManus.
"She is going to be a great one," Matt Newman said of his catcher. "She has thrown out 17 attempted base stealers and picked off four more. She has allowed seven stolen bases in 40 games, again against some of the best teams in the state."
South Lamar also boasts a senior class of shortstop Natalie Watkins, third baseman Madison Trull, first baseman Courtney Shaw, and left fielder McKenzie Bines.
"The seniors have provided great leadership," Matt Newman said. "They were the ones hurt most by missing out last year. You then come back as seniors and you want to make sure you keep the tradition alive."
South Lamar will rely on its .400 team batting average. Matt Newman said the squad has been productive with runners in scoring position.
"You have to make the plays and you have to take advantage of your scoring chances," Matt Newman said. "We have been able to do both of those things well. The biggest difference is on offense. We have a lot of hits and a lot of good at-bats this year. Hopefully, that trend continues."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter