MORE from our HomeTeam writers.
BRANDON — Newsome’s history in the Saladino Tournament heading into this season had been mostly unspectacular, much like the small, hardly impressive plaque from the Wolves’ best previous tournament performance — runnerup in 2007.
And again, this year’s Wolves team earned a spot the single-elimination tournament rounds with three surprising mid February wins but entered Friday’s quarterfinals with a sub-.500 record.
On Monday, Newsome completed its unlikely run with its third upset win, a 2-1 triumph over Jefferson to claim the Wolves’ first Saladino crown.
“Every game coming out for Saladino, knowing what it is, we want to win it every time,” said Newsome senior pitcher Julius Engel. “We came out and beat some of the best teams like Jefferson and Gaither. Our guys are so happy right now.”
Following Saturday’s semifinal win over Armwood, first-year Newsome coach Bill Highsmith showed his team that second-place plaque from four years ago, and challenged them to take this tournament one step farther.
“How ’bout you add a nice big (Saladino championship) ring on your finger,” Highsmith told his team.
“When I did that, the guys’ eyes just opened up,” Highsmith said after Monday’s title win. “They were pumped up today.”
The Wolves (8-6), who allowed just two runs in three elimination games, scored the title game’s first runs in the top of the fifth inning on Jake Jones’ two-out single down the leftfield line to give Newsome a 2-0 lead.
“We knew we could do this,” Jones said. “We just had to come together and focus on fundamentals. I think in the past when we got behind our heads would get out of the game, so it was important for us to get the lead first.”
Jefferson scored in the sixth on a bases-loaded balk and had the bases loaded with one out, but Engel, who came on relief in the sixth to save the game after tossing a complete-game shutout against Gaither on Friday, caught a line-drive comebacker and threw to third to turn a double play to end the threat.
“A matter of inches,” Jefferson coach Pop Cuesta said. “I’m disappointed. But I told them before the game, you have to win it on the field. These (Newsome) kids are going to play hard. They’ve got nothing to lose. They got here by beating some teams they weren’t supposed to beat. They did it again for the championship.”
In five of the past seven years, the Saladino winner has used the tournament to springboard itself into the state tournament. And after Newsome’s win Monday, the Wolves share those hefty goals.
“I knew we had a good baseball club,” Highsmith said. “The very first day of practice I told these guys to always have confidence in themselves and if you have confidence in yourself, good things are going to happen. That’s the main thing. We just jelled together and kept working hard, practicing every single day. I think it’s paid off for us.”