Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

April 20, 2014

Column: James Monroe baseball delivering on its potential

LINDSIDE — The James Monroe Mavericks baseball team has followed up a 1-11 start with a 5-0 week last week — a good way to go into an idle stretch during the Monroe County School system’s spring break.

“We lost a lot. We played some really tough teams,” junior Reed McNeer said on Friday evening about the first part of the season. “We came into this week and just kind of had the mindset that it was a new season, and we just had to start winning, and it’s worked out pretty good so far.”

The latest outings came in a Friday doubleheader in Lindside with Mount View, resulting in 18-3 and 13-2 wins by the home team.

Connor Boothe said, “It’s a huge confidence-booster, and baseball’s all about confidence. It’s all in your head. ... It carries on from game to game, and it’s just going to keep rolling, hopefully.”

James Monroe’s first-year head coach Nick Newberry said, “We were averaging about three or four runs a game coming into this week, and this week 13 was our low total. We probably averaged 15 runs this week.”

“I knew if we got everything together, and started playing like we can, we had a chance to win.”

“I didn’t know if we’d have enough pitching to get us through it, but we had a couple of five-inning games that helped us.”

Caleb Brown is the No. 1 pitcher, with McNeer and Ryan Lilly close behind. Newberry said, “I could throw any one of those guys out there and be pretty comfortable with them.”

McNeer, who didn’t allow a base runner Friday until the start of the fourth, had a 9-0 lead before the Golden Knights put three runs up in the fourth.

“I knew we were sitting on a pretty big lead,” he said. “I knew I just had to throw strikes, and my team would back me up, and we’d get the win.”

He was pitching a day after he hit a home run in a win at Greater Beckley Christian School.

“That was my first high school home run, and it was a grand slam,” McNeer said. “It was awesome. I didn’t even realize the bases were loaded whenever I hit it. After I got to home plate, they told me.”

Brown drew five walks in the doubleheader with Mount View. Asked to describe his approach, he said, “Gotta be patient, for sure. You get antsy. When you’re feeling the rhythm of the game, you think you’ve got to get the hits, or the walks. You’ve got to keep your mind in it, to keep it going.”

One of the great aspects of watching a high school baseball game is seeing talent show itself off.

There are stories to be told — like Jared Boone, a familiar name to followers of James Monroe football. This is his first year playing varsity baseball. He got a chance to show his stuff as designated hitter in game two Friday. He led off the second with a triple. In his other two times at the plate, he drew walks. He scored on all three occasions.

Brown knocked a full-count pitch against the center-field wall in the fourth inning of the finale, spun 90 degrees at third base and galloped toward home. Suddenly, he retreated back to that base, just shy of an inside-the-park home run.

Mount View also has talent, but has not been able to develop the players’ potential.

Sophomore Chris Muncy scored two of the Knights’ five runs, stole a pair of bases and ripped a double in the second game.

Senior C.J. Lester was 2 for 2 in the second game, after a pair of strikeouts in the first outing. The Knights’ big man also showed great maturity and patience behind the plate, working with a depleted pitching corps to the best of his ability.

McNeer, Brown and Boothe each generated five runs batted in during the doubleheader. Boothe, the No. 2 batter in the lineup, said, “We have a good offensive team. We get the bases loaded, and that gives me a chance to get an RBI.”

Brown said, “I’m just happy that everybody’s clicking. We started off slow, big-time. ... We’re getting there.”

“We’re showing the team we can be.”

*****

Tom Bone is a Daily Telegraph sports writer and cartoonist. Contact him at tbone@bdtonline.com and follow him on Twitter @BDTBone.

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