At key moments, Ryan McNeil isn’t afraid to take matters into his own hands.
The star pitcher for the Nipomo High baseball team induced a pop-up in the vicinity of the other team’s dugout at one point Friday afternoon, but rather than leaving it up to anyone else, raced to snag it himself, recording the out.
“It’s not textbook,” Titans coach John Stevens said, “but Ryan likes to have a sense of control. When it’s his game, he wants to be in control of the whole thing, and if he has any opportunity to take control of the game in any way, he’ll do that.”
It was his game Friday.
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Whether on the mound or at the plate, McNeil was routinely in command throughout the Titans’ 3-1 home win over Gladstone of Covina in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 playoffs.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior — the younger brother of Long Beach State true freshman outfielder Jeff McNeil — went 3 for 3 with two RBI and two doubles, and pitched a complete-game five-hitter with six strikeouts and four walks.
He put the Titans up 1-0 with a double that drove in Marc Baker in the bottom of the first inning. The spark came after a somewhat uncharacteristic top half, during which McNeil allowed the Gladiators to load the bases before he stranded the three baserunners. But after McNeil gave himself the early run support, Gladstone went three-up, three-down in the second.
“Once I got that first hit, I felt comfortable, and that confidence just carried,” McNeil said.
His fifth-inning RBI single rounded out the game’s scoring, offering a little breathing room after Gladstone had made it 2-1 in the third.
With the win, Nipomo advanced to face Tahquitz of Hemet (19-5) in the second round at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday. Because Tahquitz also opened the postseason at home — with a 6-0 win over Sultana of Hesperia (14-10) — a coin toss this morning will determine the second-round host site.
Baker finished 1 for 2 with a run scored in Friday’s win. Kenton Garl, Dominic Garcia and Derek Seaman all added 1-for-3 performances for Nipomo (17-5).
The victory was the latest milestone in a year of several for the Titans, who’ve won 10 straight and are on an emotional high after winning a share of the Los Padres League championship in their first year in the league.
“That was one of our goals at the beginning of the year,” McNeil said. “We came in thinking, ‘All right, there’s no way we shouldn’t go deep in (the playoffs) this year.’ So that’s been our goal. We’re definitely pumped about it, but we’re still thinking about that next game.”
McNeil didn’t have his best game of the year Friday, but consistently avoided trouble thanks to a steady fastball and a complementary slider he established later on.
“I’ve seen him throw a lot harder,” Stevens said, “but he did a good job today.”
McNeil, a player Stevens feels could have draft potential next year, came into the postseason with a 1.45 ERA in 58 innings of work.
“He’s got the ability to say, ‘Well, if I can’t paint the corners I’ll just throw it right down the heart of the plate, and here’s my best pitch. If you can hit it, fine. If you can’t, I win.’ He’s getting to that level where he’s able to do that, and that’s basically what he started doing (Friday).”
The Titans will likely turn to the 6-foot-6 Baker (who has a 2.37 ERA in 44 1⁄3 innings) in the next round, although Cole Holloway (1.03 ERA in 20 1⁄3) has also had a standout season.