03/30/08 — Deacon Jones Invitational: Rosewood three-peats as tournament champion

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Deacon Jones Invitational: Rosewood three-peats as tournament champion

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on March 30, 2008 2:04 AM

PRINCETON -- As Rosewood's players hoisted the Deacon Jones Invitational championship trophy in jubilation and cameras illuminated the night sky, Josh Smith reflected on the moment.

Not so long ago, the Eagles struggled to find their identity. Wins were a premium, while losses seemed to pile up like unopened bills in a mailbox.

Those doubts are now gone.

Rosewood evened its record at 5-5 with an 8-6 victory over archrival Princeton on Friday, and claimed its third consecutive Deacon Jones Invitational crown.

"We played a real hard non-conference schedule and I've been telling the boys to be patient all year long," said Smith, a Rosewood alum. "I think the biggest part of our success lately is that we're playing together as one. We're not looking for an individual to step up ... we're looking for everyone to step up."

The Eagles roughed up Bulldogs right-hander Michael Radford for six runs in the top of the first inning. Holt Rains started the onslaught with an RBI single, while Matt Neal and Rains crossed home on critical Princeton errors.

Will Beasley and Eric Martel each smacked an RBI single, and Steven Bostic trotted home a wild pitch to cap the six-run uprising.

The Bulldogs (4-6 overall) threatened in their half of the first. They put runners on the corners with one out, but Neal thwarted the rally with an inning-ending groundout.

Defensive miscues, seven in all, plagued Princeton throughout the seven-inning affair.

"Especially against a good team you can't give them extra outs," said Princeton head coach Bruce Proctor. "Getting beat is one thing and you just can't give them outs."

Ryan Daughtry's homer to center, his second of the tournament, got Princeton on the scoreboard in the fourth inning. Daughtry finished 3-for-4 with three RBI and earned a spot on the all-tournament team.

Neal, an all-tournament pick, consistently elevated his game in key situations all night while leaving the Bulldogs wondering what could have been.

After Patrick Jacobs' RBI double in the fifth made the score 10-2, Princeton loaded the bases with two outs. Neal halted the rally with a strikeout of Daughtry.

"I'll go to war with these kids anytime," Proctor said. "I felt like all along we were going to come back and we did. When it comes down to the end you have to take advantage of those opportunities."

Neal recorded six strikeouts and walked two batters, while surrendering six runs (all earned) on seven hits in six-plus innings. Richards, who was named the Invitational's Most Valuable Player, avoided a seventh-inning comeback and polished off the Bulldogs for the save.

"Matt's a sophomore and he stepped up big for us tonight," said Smith. "He wants the ball and I can't ask anything else from a player at such a young age. A lot of it was getting ahead in the count and getting the outs when we needed it the most."