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Central holds off Mules to take third
The Tigers escaped a late-game jam and beat Poplar Bluff 4-2.
Central ace Josh Meyer struggled with his control as he worked as the closer against Poplar Bluff in the third-place game of the SEMO Conference baseball tournament Monday.
Meyer, who normally starts games, was making his first high-pressure relief appearance. He walked three batters and gave up two hits in 1 2/3 innings.
Still, the junior hurler was able to escape without the Mules scoring. He made a crucial pickoff in the seventh inning, and later struck out the final batter with the bases loaded as No. 3 Central posted a 4-2 victory over No. 8 Poplar Bluff at Capaha Field.
Meyer, who earned his first save, said he made two other relief appearances, but both were low-pressure situations with a goal of getting some work.
"This was kind of a new thing," Meyer said. "It was fun. It's just kind of a different thing to come in, in relief. You don't get as long to find your pitches."
Meyer was thrown into the fire. He replaced Tigers starter Jamie Pickel in the top of the sixth inning with Central leading 3-2, but runners on first and second with one out. The Nos. 8 and 9 hitters for the Mules were coming to the plate.
"I gave us a chance to have one of our best pitchers come in and face the bottom of their lineup," Central coach Steve Williams said. "[Meyer] was probably a little excited -- Capaha and a nice field and everything."
Meyer got the first batter to fly out to center field, but walked the No. 9 hitter to load the bases. He then struck out leadoff hitter Bobby McIntosh to escape the jam.
Central (12-9) added a run on one hit and two Poplar Bluff errors in the bottom of the sixth to give Meyer a 4-2 lead entering the seventh inning.
Meyer allowed a leadoff single, but then picked off the runner on first base.
"That was big," Williams said. "Any time you can get that guy out, that keeps the tying run on deck. He made a good move, and Jamie [Pickel] made a good catch and tag."
Meyer surrendered another hit and walked two batters to load the bases with two outs in the seventh. Meyer had struggled getting ahead of hitters, but with the bases loaded, he got ahead of hitter Caleb Conover.
"We have a good defense and I have faith in the defense," Meyer said. "If I threw the first pitch down the middle and he was to hit it, I would have faith in the defense to make the play. So I [was trying to] just get ahead of him."
Meyer struck out Conover on a curveball to end the game.
Pickel pitched well over the first 5 1/3 innings to earn the victory. He gave up two earned runs on six hits.
Pickel kept Poplar Bluff -- which had scored 22 runs combined in tournament games against Notre Dame and Sikeston -- scoreless through the first four innings. The two Mules runs were scored in the fifth.
"My arm felt real nice at the beginning," Pickel said. "I wanted to get ahead and I wanted to throw it hard. I wanted to get my slider over, and my changeup."
Williams was glad to see Pickel pitch well after the junior had a couple of tough outings recently. Pickel struck out three batters.
"I'm really excited for Jamie to see him get back to where he was because he had a couple starts where he wasn't really locating his ball well." Williams said. "Everything was up. Today, everything was down. He had good velocity and had a good slider."
Central took a 3-0 lead in the first inning on three hits and two errors by the Mules. Ryan Grigaitis smashed an RBI single off pitcher Todd Bullington during the rally.
"I was just looking for a first-pitch fastball, and I got it," Grigaitis said. "I've played against [Bullington] for four years. I know him. He's a good pitcher. He kept the ball down. But we just hit the ball. We were anxious."
WP -- Jamie Pickel, 4-1. LP -- Todd Bullington. 2B -- Blake Smith (C), Don Magruder (PB). Multiple hits -- Central: Jared Green 2-4, Pickel 2-3; Poplar Bluff: Josh Thompson 3-4. Magruder 2-3.