Neal tosses shutout in eastern semifinal win over Gators
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on May 26, 2010 1:46 PM
Rosewood continues to ride the right arm of Matt Neal as far it will take the Eagles.
Neal tossed a complete-game shutout and Rosewood's offense came alive late in a 3-0 victory over East Columbus in the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1-A state playoffs.
The Eagles (18-6 overall) advanced the eastern regional championship for the first time since the late 1970s. Rosewood travels to Holly Ridge Dixon for a best-of-three series, which begins Thursday at Dixon. First pitch is 7 p.m.
The Gators threatened in the top of the first with runners on first and second base, and two outs. Eagles' center fielder Scott Pate's running catch that resulted in a crash into the wall on a fly ball by Houston Barnes ended the threat.
East Columbus used two singles and a Rosewood error to load the bases with nobody out in the top of the third inning. Neal used three consecutive strikeouts to work out of trouble.
"I had all three of my pitches," said Neal. "I felt like I could throw both of my off-speed pitches for strikes and come back with my fastball and get it by them. There in the third inning I was just thinking I want to go play for a championship.
"That's all I was thinking about."
The Gators (18-4) loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the fourth before Neal got Hunter Smith to fly out to end the inning.
After being held to just one hit by Barnes through the first four innings, the Eagles' offense came to life with two outs in the bottom of the fifth. Taylor Price and Neal both delivered RBI singles to give Rosewood a 2-0 lead.
Cody Harris scored on an error in the home half of the sixth to extend the lead to 3-0. Harris finished with two hits.
"I was telling them the whole game to be patient at the plate and don't get up there swinging at the first pitch," said Eagles' head coach Jason King. "We faced an outstanding pitcher and he was in the strike zone all night. I told our guys to sit on the fastball and to keep putting it in play, and good things will happen."
Jonathan Franks' diving catch on Smith's fly ball to right field in the top of the seventh punctuated Neal's complete game. Neal surrendered five hits and struck out nine with two walks while working around four Rosewood errors. The senior recorded a strikeout in five of the seven innings.
East Columbus left nine runners on base, including eight in the first four innings.
"Matt was huge," said King. "We got outplayed defensively. When you make four errors and you don't have that type of effort on the mound you lose the ballgame."
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