After breaking his arm in a freak accident during P.E. class, Tanner McKeel was unsure if he was ever going to play baseball again.
In February, the junior had to undergo surgery that required nine screws and a metal plate in his left elbow and forced him to miss the regular season.
But on Tuesday night, McKeel was back on the mound and making his second start of the season.
The Rosewood pitcher stood tall as he tossed a four-hit complete game, surrendering zero walks and striking out four as he carried the Eagles to a 2-1 victory over Bear Grass Charter in game one of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1-A East regionals.
“It means so much to come back,” McKeel said. “I was hurt when I found out I had to have surgery in February. I didn’t know how I was going to come back. I didn’t know if I was going to able to come back, so it means the world to come back and play the game I love.
“Nothing else means more to me than the game of baseball.”
With six juniors and three sophomores in the lineup, the Eagles’ offense pounded out just four hits, but the Eagles stayed patient at the plate and took advantage of every opportunity that came their way.
Will Harris’ RBI single in the bottom of the third inning allowed Logan Price to score and give the Eagles a 1-0 lead.
In the top of the fourth inning, Bear Grass Charter tied the game 1-1 when Ty Johnson hit an RBI single.
Conner Casey’s RBI groundout allowed Will Albert to score and give the Eagles back the lead.
Over the final three innings, Bear Grass Charter attempted to tie the game again, but McKeel shut the door on any hopes of a Bear Grass comeback.
McKeel allowed just two hits in the final three innings of the game. The Bears were unable to adjust because McKeel was pitching at such a high level.
“I can’t say enough about him,” Rosewood head coach Jason King said. “He was dealt a really tough deck this year, but he kept working, he came to nearly every practice, and when he wasn’t at practice, he was at physical therapy or a doctor’s appointment trying to get back.
“He kept his arm and body in shape, and it’s paid off for him. He’s been a warrior for us on the mound.”
However, the bottom of the seventh inning, the Eagles ran into a little bit of trouble. With one out and the tying run on first base, McKeel struck out the final two batters of the game to bring the Eagles one game away from playing for a state title.
“Overall I threw a pretty good game,” McKeel said. “I couldn’t have done it without help from God. I thank God for letting me recover and letting me come back in the state playoffs and pitch one heck of a game.”
Price, Harris, Patrick Jones and Logan Merritt each collected one hit apiece. Harris and Casey both finished with an RBI.
The Eagles travel to Bear Grass Charter on Friday for game two. First pitch is set for 7 p.m.
“The boys played outstanding. It was a great ball game by both teams,” King said. “We’ve been really fortunate to play at home, but we’ve played well on the road, too, so we just have to go and maintain our focus in a different environment.”