Most players sweat when the heat is turned up a little bit. Put a couple men in scoring position and the hands get a little clammy. Add the pressure of the playoffs and they’re libel to build up kidney stones.
But when you are a couple of cool clams like Andre Gregory and Andrew Boes, you just make Pearls, Neptune Beach Pearls.
The timely hitting of Gregory and Boes’ ability to get out of several early jams, enabled the underdog Neptune Beach Pearl to defeat the top-seeded LA Brewers 6-3 in the opening round of the California Collegiate League playoffs Friday.
The Brewers were the top hitting team in the CCL this season, posting a .322 average and .443 slugging percentage – both more than 25 points beyond the nearest competitor. But neither the impressive stats nor the Brewers 30-7 record phased Boes, who went the distance, allowing 6 hits 2 walks and 3 earned runs, while striking out 13.
“I think he stood up to the challenge fairly well,” Pearl manager Brant Cummings said. “He is kid who thrives on that. He actually appeared to get better as the game went on, especially with his velocity. Somewhere around the sixth inning he started beating guys with the fastball up.”
Constantly having the tying run on base or on deck didn’t shake Boes either. The Pearl (28-23) staked Boes to a 3-0 lead in the second on an RBI single by Gregory. He drove in Marcus Vidales, who led off the inning with a single. They collected the Pearl’s only two hits in the inning, but two wild pitches and two errors enabled the Pearl to score two more runs.
By contrast, the Pearl played near percent defense committing no errors and a passed ball was their only blemish. But that didn’t mean Boes didn’t have obstacles to overcome. The Brewers rallied right back with two runs in the bottom of the second, scoring both on a single that bounced over first baseman Eric Sapp.
“With runners on second and third Boes gets a 1-out grounder hit right at Sapp and it bounces right over his head. It wasn’t an error,” Cummings said. “The ball must’ve hit something and bounced right over his head. It gets a little stressful at times like that. We did all that to score three runs and then they turn around with two quick singles and a sacrifice bunt, and then they get that bad-bounce single to get right back in it. But Boes battled came right back and got a strikeout and a fly out to get out of the inning.”
The Pearl had the bases loaded and nobody out in the fourth and two on with one out in the sixth, but failed to get a run home with the heart of their order at the plate each time. Instead it would come down to Mr. Clutch, Andre Gregory.
“He didn’t swing that well for us this year, but he has been good with runners in score position,” Cummings said of Gregory who hit .161 without runners in scoring position, but was 10-for-40 with runners in scoring position going into Friday’s contest. “You can count on him when the pressure is on.”
After Vidales (4-for-5) singled and stole second in the seventh, it looked like the Pearl might waste another opportunity to give Boes a little breathing room, but Gregory legged out a two-out infield single up the middle. LA shortstop Dylan Moore dove behind second base to snare Gregory’s sharp grounder, but was unable to get up and throw out Gregory in time, allowing Vidales to make the lead 4-2.
“I think it is more of a confidence thing for me,” Gregory said. “I want to help team and come up big when the team needs me. Sometimes I put too much pressure on myself, but I like to try to stay calm and go up the middle to get those runs home in that kind of situation.”
The Pearl gave Boes a little more buffer room in the ninth behind a single by Ozzy Braff and an RBI triple into the right field corner by Connor Tekyl. Tekyl then scored on Vidales’ RBI single to center to make the lead 6-2 with Boes needing three more outs for the complete-game victory.
Boes would make Cummings sweat just as little more in the ninth when the Brewers picked up a run on a single and two-out, RBI triple by Jon Torres. Boes responded by striking out pinch hitter Nick Anderson to end the game.
“Boes pitched an amazing game,” Gregory said. “He shoved it right at them and went after hitters. He didn’t waste time. It was probably his best game of the season. They are a great team, but Boes handled them really well.”
The Pearl advanced to Saturday’s afternoon game against San Luis Obispo (41-12), an 8-1 victory over Walnut Creek (22-26) on Friday. The winner of the Pearl-Blues game will advance to Sunday’s championship round where a victory will would end the tournament. If the lone 2-0 team were to lose Sunday’s first game to the team that survives the losers’ bracket, that same team would have to come right back and beat the victor in winners’ bracket again.
Cummings said the Pearl will need to continue to play the kind of clean baseball they played Friday, if they want to win the championship. The Pearl have made championship Sunday twice in the program’s four season, but has yet to claim a championship. Gregory thinks this group can do it.
“I think we have one of the best teams in the playoffs,” Gregory said. “We just have to play like it, playing with energy like we know we can. We have great pitching and great hitting. We just have to wake up sometimes. It can be a long season (playing 60 games in 62 days) and it can be hard to stay focused. I don’t know how the other guys are feeling, but bodies get tired and arms get sore, but you got to come out and play with a positive attitude. I think we all had good energy today because we want to win the whole thing.”
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