CARRBORO — Playing on every level of baseball prepares you for different challenges.
Whether it’s been as a player at East Mecklenburg, Wingate College or with the Reno Silver Sox of the independent Golden Baseball League, Shaughn Neal was ready to deal with a variety of challenges. Playing for a Division 2 upstart. A fly-by-night professional league. Talking his way into an assistant coaching job. This year, he’s faced a new challenge.
A program of his own.
It’s never easy regardless of where you wind up. Fields have to be maintained. There are schedules to make. Administrators to satisfy. The constant demands of parents, which have led to several local departures over the past decade.
Then there are the games themselves.
For Carrboro, Neal found himself replacing Nat Tyndall, whose contract wasn’t renewed despite leading the Jaguars to a surprising run to the fourth round of the 2013 2-A playoffs.
Nine games into his head coaching career, Neal hasn’t had far to go for advice. He can simply call Phil Woodell, his boss of four years at East Chapel Hill.
“He knows the area,” said Neal. “I still call on him on how he takes care of his field. I had to call on him to schedule games when I took this job. So he’s been a big help.”
For now, Neal is working with a young team that’s re-starting after taking 11 days off for spring break. The Jaguars (4-5, 3-2) dropped two one-run games to open the second half the season, falling to East Chapel Hill 8-7 in eight innings on Thursday at Jaguar Field. On Wednesday, Jordan-Matthews held off the Jaguars 5-4 in Silver City.
“We’ve scuffled a little bit,” said Neal. “But I think we played harder than them. I thought we came out with a good mindset. If we keep taking steps forward, we’ll win these games.”
East’s (10-3) fifth straight victory didn’t come without headaches. The two teams combined for 8 unearned runs, 6 errors and 10 walks. Neal opted to throw Ethan Foy (his second pitching appearance this year) and Collin Andres (his first) to varying results.
With two out in the bottom of the sixth, Andres sent the game to extra innings when he knocked the ball loose from the glove of first-baseman Bennett Byerley on a failed put-out at first, which allowed Carrboro’s Lee Mook and Nick Wilhelm to score and tie the game at 6-6.
In the eighth, Byerley was hit by a pitch and John Page was walked. With two out, Grant Neal sent a fly ball to shallow right field that three Jaguars couldn’t get a glove on, scoring Byerley and Page. That gave East an 8-6 lead.
The irony that Grant Neal, a player he coached for two years on the East JV team, had the game-winning at-bat wasn’t lost on Shaughn Neal.
“He and I shared the same last name, which helped,” said Neal. “Going through the handshake line and seeing them now as grown men is kind of a joy. Nothing but love for those guys.”
East starter Sean Moore (3-2), despite throwing 28 strikes on his first 33 pitches and striking out 9, was stuck with a no-decision. John Bauman (1-0) pitched in the bottom of the eighth to record his first win to go with 3 saves.
Moore also went 3-for-4 at the plate with an RBI. D.J. Recny also hit 3-for-4 for the Wildcats.
Carrboro’s Calvin Wagner finished 2-for-4 with a double. Spencer Brown went 2-for-3.