By Chris Goltermann / Coweta Score
A three-run walk-off homer to cap off the opening game of a GHSA Class 7A Second round state playoff series against Lassiter at Joe Pope Field by Newnan sophomore Michael Maginnis sent an electric vibe that might have been felt all the way down LaGrange Street on the Square downtown.
But the Cougars sweep over a quality opponent from battle-tested Region 4-7A may travel a lot further in the state’s high school baseball community.
Newnan High’s program made a statement for being among the Elite 8 of the GHSA’s highest classification.
After rallying past the Trojans in Game 1 in its final at-bat for a 4-3 win by way of Maginnis’ first-ever varsity homer, the Cougars clawed their way through an equally hard-fought 4-0 shutout win by scoring all four runs over the final two innings for a sweep in the best of three series.
Newnan awaits the winner between Region 8 champion Grayson and Region 7 runner-up Brookwood. The teams split a doubleheader, with host Grayson rallying back in Game 2 for a 7-5 win that forced a deciding game on Friday at 6 p.m.
After acting as a stopping point during last year’s Region 2-7A championship season, a return trip to the Sweet 16 was even sweeter the second time around for a lineup that maintained the majority of its pitching staff while honing some of last year’s preparation and poise.
It wasn’t easy against a traditionally sound Lassiter program out of baseball-rich Cobb County. The Trojans’ 14-21 record was deceiving on paper, but not in the GHSA state bracket where all four Region 4 representatives advanced through the first round.
As the only remaining survivor of Region 2, Newnan (23-9) also became the only high school south of Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson airport left in the Class 7A playoffs, with the Cougars using the term “Southside” several times as a rallying cry.
“We wanted people know who we are. I still don’t know if people know who we are. But they may know us after tonight,” said Newnan head coach Marc Gilmore, who knew the challenge his team was up against in Lassiter. “It is a top-10 program in the state every year. They’re battle tested. They go through the gauntlet. You don’t look at their record. Those guys compete. We did a good job of competing tonight too.”
If there was some solace coming out of last year’s disappointing finish by the Cougars in the Sweet 16, it was that experience may have rubbed off for a returning nucleus that included senior starting pitchers Jaxon O’Neal and Jake Martin.
Each went the distance over consecutive games to match efforts from Lassiter, which led Region 4 in fewest runs allowed in region play. O’Neal’s only earned runs came on solo homers by Trojans Sam Marques and Adam Love over consecutive innings.
“I said I was ok when he makes one mistake. I’m [also] ok when he makes two mistakes and a win,” Gilmore said of O’Neal, who after being named Region 2 Co-Pitcher of the Year struck out seven while allowing two earned runs on six hits and two walks in a complete-game victory.
Lassiter’s second solo homer along with an unearned run in the sixth gave the Trojans a lead that carried into Newnan’s final at-bat of Game 1.
But the Cougars quickly put runners on first and second following consecutive hits from Max Wilson and Jett Lovett to open the bottom of the seventh. One batter later, with runners at the corners and one out, Maginnis seemed to have a potential game-tying hit denied when his first swing sent a ball that hugged the right-field line before dropping foul.
A missed opportunity, however, was just an appetizer to the main course of drama awaiting.