06/05/10 — Neal recognized as pitcher of the year

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Neal recognized as pitcher of the year

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on June 5, 2010 11:11 PM

With three quality pitches, nerves of steel and a relentless work ethic, Matt Neal is a walking definition of a big-game pitcher at the high school level.

The senior right-hander went 10-2 this season with two saves and a 1.14 earned run average. He helped lead Rosewood the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1-A east regional championship for the first time since 1978 and just the second time in program history.

Neal is the 2010 News-Argus All-Area Pitcher-of-the-Year.

With a fastball, curveball and changeup in his repertoire, Neal consistently gets ahead of hitters, keeps his pitch count low and works deep into ballgames. He tossed eight complete games this season, including two in the playoffs.

Three of Neal's eight complete games were shutouts and he tallied 105 strikeouts with 21 walks in 74 innings of work. He surrendered just 15 earned runs, while making 12 starts and appearing in 16 games overall.

"He gets ahead early and when he gets in jams, he stays in the strike zone," said Eagles head coach Jason King. "Where some guys may lose it or they may get out of the strike zone if they get in a tight spot, he stays cool and he stays in the strike zone. That's what helps him keep his pitch count low and allows him to throw complete games."

Known for delivering performances that seemingly get bigger as the stakes get higher, Neal turned in a pair of memorable efforts in two of Rosewood's biggest games.

In a much-anticipated visit to Carolina 1-A Conference foe Spring Creek, Neal tossed a complete game in a 7-4 victory. He worked out of late trouble twice with the tying run at the plate.

The Eagles clinched a share of the Carolina Conference crown that evening.

In his final home start against East Columbus in the eastern semifinals, Neal threw a complete-game shutout.

With the score tied at 0-0, the Gators loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the third inning. Neal recorded three consecutive strikeouts to end the threat. East Columbus left nine runners on base.

Neal finished with nine strikeouts and two walks, and surrendered just five hits.

"I've always had that," said Neal. "I don't know why I'm like that. Most people aren't like that but I would much rather throw in the bottom of the seventh or in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and nobody out than just a 0-0 game in the first inning.

"I feel like I do a whole lot better in those situations."

Those types of performances have earned Neal and senior catcher Will Beasley the trust of their coaching staff. King and assistant coach Greg Neal, Matt's father, allow Neal and Beasley to call their own pitches. That's a rarity in high school baseball.

"Me and Will have been playing together since we were eight-years-old," said Neal. "Will and I are on the same page, we hang out off the field and we just know each other real well. We can both read the hitters well enough to call pitches by ourselves."

Hours before game time Neal can typically be found getting extra swings in the batting cage or helping a teammate refine their game. That type of leadership on and off the field is what has allowed Neal to leave a lasting impact on Rosewood's program.

"He's got to be one of the best players to ever come through here in my opinion," said King. "I haven't been here my whole life, but the type of work ethic that he brings and the type of player that he is for us, he's a special kid."