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Newsome High shocks to win Saladino Tournament

Newsome’s Alex Parker commands the mound during the Wolves’ victory over Jefferson High in the Saladino finals Monday.

BRYAN THOMAS | Times

Newsome’s Alex Parker commands the mound during the Wolves’ victory over Jefferson High in the Saladino finals Monday.

BRANDON — March is synonymous with the madness associated with the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, but a different Cinderella stole the show this week.

Newsome shocked most in the local baseball community when it won the school's first-ever Saladino Tournament title Monday.

The Wolves beat Gaither in the quarterfinals, Armwood in the semis and Jefferson in Monday's finale to capture the nationally recognized tournament.

"Everything really came together for us this week," coach Bill Highsmith said. "I'm not exactly sure why, but we gelled as a team during this tournament."

Newsome entered Friday's quarterfinal with a nondescript 5-6 record, but Highsmith said he felt from early on that the Wolves could be a good team.

"We didn't get off to a very good start and lost some games we wish we could have back," he said. "But from the first day of practice, I felt this team was special."

Statistics don't tell the whole story with this bunch. Just three players who see significant playing time are hitting above .300, the Wolves have hit just two home runs as a team and no player has reached double-digits in the RBI category.

What Newsome lacks in eye-popping stats, it makes up for in an often-overlooked intangible — chemistry.

"It's unbelievable how well we all get along," said pitcher Julius Engel, who picked up the win against Gaither and a save versus Jefferson in relief of starter Alex Parker. "We all honestly love each other."

If the Wolves need a blueprint of how Saladino success can act as a springboard for a deep playoff run, they need look no further than Brandon. Three years ago, the Eagles entered the tournament with a so-so 10-6 record. But Brandon knocked off county heavyweights Plant and Alonso to win the title and didn't lose another game until the state championship.

"This type of win against these type of teams goes a long way to showing us what we're capable of," Engel said.

Jake Jones said there is no reason to think the Wolves can't be this year's version of the 2008 Eagles. He got some proof Tuesday night when Newsome continued its streak with a 2-0 win against Armwood.

"Just like (the 2008 Brandon team), nobody was expecting us to do what we did," he said. "Everybody counted us out but I think this is just the beginning for us."

Few outside of the Newsome locker room thought the Wolves' improbable championship run was possible.

"Honestly, I didn't really think we could win the whole thing," Engel said. "No one gave us a chance."

Engel said Newsome's nail-biting 1-0 quarterfinal win against Gaither was the catalyst for the Wolves' believing the coveted Saladino title was possible.

"After that game, we felt like it could happen," said Engel, who picked up the complete-game victory against the Cowboys. "We felt like it could happen. That game was so tight and gave us so much confidence."

Brandon Wright can be reached at hillsnews@sptimes.com.

Newsome High shocks to win Saladino Tournament 03/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 24, 2011 4:30am]
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