By Doug Gorman
Henry County head baseball coach Troy Baker has been around the game long enough to know freshmen usually don't play a key role in a varsity team's game plan. Former left-handed pitcher Mike Rozier spent four years on the varsity and is now in the Boston Red Sox organization after graduating last year.
Jason Heyward, a sophomore on this year's team, also worked his way into the starting lineup with the Warhawks last year. Blake Newalu is also bucking the trend that states freshmen can't play with the big boys.
Earlier this week, the Warhawks' freshman short stop showed he firmly belongs in the lineup with a memorable performance against Marist.
Down 2-0 in the bottom of the seventh, Newalu came to bat with the bases loaded and two outs, worked the count full, and after fouling off a collection of pitches, smacked a three-run double to complete the sweep of the War Eagles. Newalu's extra-base hit pushed the Warhawks into the Class AAAA Final Four for the first time in school history.
"He is a smart player. He knows the game. The exciting thing is he's going to be around for three more years," said Baker.
Henry County travels to Heritage Monday for a doubleheader to open the Class AAAA semifinals. Game one starts at 2, with a second game to follow. A third game would be played Tuesday at 5 p.m., if necessary.
"It's finally sunk in," Newalu said. "But now we have to erase it from out memory banks and get ready to play at Heritage."
Newalu's is only batting .167 in the playoffs, but the timely hit could be the start of breaking out of a slump. Overall this year, Newalu his hitting .293, with 14 RBIs and one homer.
"It was a great at-bat," said senior teammate Matt Clark. "We needed somebody to come up with a base hit, and he delivered."
Newalu plays in the prestigious East Cobb league, in the summer but even he admits he didn't expect to be contributing to the varsity in such a big way, so soon.
"I'm just glad to be part of the team," he said. "My teammates are great. Just to be part of a squad going to the final four for the first time in school history is great."