The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


April 18, 2014

Smith wiggles out of jams as Eagles down Wildcats

When Joplin starter Kealin Smith wasn’t shooting bullets from the batter’s box, he was dodging them on the pitcher’s mound.

The right-hander roped two hits down the left-field line and pitched 4 2/3 innings of Joplin’s 8-1 win over Neosho at Wendell Redden Stadium on Friday, allowing just one unearned run. Smith gave the Wildcats their chances, handing out six hits and five walks, but repeatedly pitched out of jams.

“I personally think, and he’ll probably agree with me on this one, he wasn’t as sharp as he’s been this year,” Eagles coach Kirk Harryman said. “I thought he scuffled a little bit early, with his changeup in particular, throwing it for a strike early. But I thought he came back in the middle innings and threw the ball real well.”

In addition to his work on the mound, Smith went 2-for-2 at the plate with a double and a single, wisely taking an extra base on a subtle miscue in left field on the latter to help his own cause.

“I feel like, not being conceited or anything, but I feel like helping yourself out kind of helps the team out,” Smith said of his day at the plate.

Neosho left 12 runners on base in the game. In the first inning, Smith got a 4-6-3 double play with the bases loaded and one out to end an early Wildcat threat. Shortstop Chris Leonardi scored in the bottom of the first after being hit by a pitch, stealing second, advancing on a wild pitch and scoring on a balk to make it 1-1.

Joplin pulled away in the bottom of the second with a four-run inning. Colton Johnson led off with a triple. Smith’s single and left fielder Kris Finley’s error brought Johnson home and put a man in scoring position. Mark Duley struck out for the first out before Tyson Hardee was hit by a pitch. Skyler Duley’s sacrifice bunt set up Leonardi’s two-run double, followed by back-to-back infield singles and Joplin took a 5-1 lead after two innings.

Neosho loaded the bases again in the top of the third, but Smith struck out his counterpart Chris Paullus to escape trouble. Hardee drove in Smith after his double in the bottom half of the frame and the Eagles led 6-1.

The Wildcats again put runners in scoring position in the fourth, but Smith induced a groundout to shortstop to keep Neosho off the scoreboard. Smith walked the bases loaded around a fielder’s choice in the fifth, prompting Harryman to go to Tyler McGrew.

McGrew struck out Alec Gorham on five pitches before getting an 0-2 count on  pinch-hitter Ray Manuel. Manuel watched three straight balls, but swung through an inside pitch, wasting Neosho’s last scoring threat.

Joplin (12-4) added two more runs in the bottom of the sixth on a balk and a passed ball for the final margin.

The Eagles travel to face Hillcrest at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

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