Stepping up to the plate

Published 7:47 am Monday, April 25, 2005

By By Tim Cottrell
The Escambia County Blue Devils have had a tough season.
Damage to Tom Byrne Park from Hurricane Ivan prevented ECHS from playing home games and several close losses have sent the Blue Devils to a 2-15 record.
Brighter times may be ahead, however, with only one senior on the team this year and several young players stepping up their games.
One of the better examples of that would be sophomore Jonathon McNeal, who has batted .338 and maintained an earned run average of around 4.5 throughout the year.
Blue Devil skipper Keith Nall was proud of the effort his young workhorse had given all year.
"I've asked him to play several different positions this year," Nall said. "He's played catcher a few times. He can play several different positions on the field. Jonathon is pretty versatile. He came up and played JV as an eighth grader and he pitched some with the varsity last year as a freshman. He probably should've played JV, but I needed a pitcher."
McNeal said he hoped to continue playing well and become a team leader next season.
"I hope I can keep up a high batting average," McNeal said. "I want to keep pitching well and I hope we can put more wins together next year. A lot of guys on the team have lost a little confidence this year and we need to get that back."
Nall, like McNeal, felt there was nowhere to go, but up for the Blue Devils.
"We've had a lot of younger guys stepping up and playing well," he said. "Not playing any home games has hurt us. I don't see any reason we won't be better next year."
While ECHS was wrapping up its season in the county tournament in Flomaton, McNeal reflected on some of the highs and lows of the season.
"The best part of the season for me was when I hit that home run against Gulf Shores in Flomaton," McNeal said. "The worst part has been not coming in with many wins."
Nall also said he expects big things from McNeal over the next two seasons.
"I expect him to be a leader on the team," Nall said. "Just the experience should help with that. He's been playing well, pitching and hitting. He hit one about 380 feet the other night against Jackson that should have gone out."
In the end, McNeal had someone he wanted to thank for helping him along the way.
"My dad, Donny McNeal, has really helped me," he said. "He's really encouraged me."

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