Neal, Ellis give Lady Tigers tough one-two punch on the mound
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
Most teams which have two quality pitchers will classify them as a number one and number two.
The classification for T.R. Miller softball hurlers Rebekah Neal and Halie Ellis is a little different. They should be more properly labeled as "number one and number one-A" and not necessarily in any order.
The pitching of Ellis and Neal is a big reason why the Lady Tigers will be making their first ever Class 3A state tournament appearance Thursday at Montgomery's Lagoon Park.
"They've both done a great job of carrying us," T.R. Miller coach Jamie Riggs said.
Both Neal, a senior righthander, and Ellis, a junior righthander, have won three games during the postseason.
It may not have been her best game of the postseason, but it was Neal who won a pivotal 7-6 decision against Clarke County in the semifinals of the Area Tournament. Since then Neal came within two outs of a perfect game in the first sub-state game against Abbeville. She eventually had to settle for a three-hitter in a 10-3 triumph.
Neal's best game of the postseason came Saturday when she allowed just a first inning single in a 2-0 triumph against Montgomery Catholic in the final round of sub-state play.
"Probably the key to my success has been I've had a good fastball. I've also had pretty good placement with my pitches," Neal said.
Meanwhile Ellis has allowed just two runs in her three postseason games. She scattered four hits in a 13-1 triumph over Clarke County in the Area championship game. In the first sub-state round against Abbeville, Ellis tossed a two-hit shutout in an 18-0 win. Ellis then limited Montgomery Catholic to only four hits in Saturday's 2-1 sub-state championship victory.
"I knew Montgomery Catholic was a team where I couldn't afford to make many mistakes. I had to stay focused on every pitch," Ellis said. "I've also had pretty good success with my fastball."
Riggs said Ellis has had another key to her success.
"Halie usually does a pretty good job of keeping the ball low and that has usually resulted in ground balls," Riggs said.
Prior to this season, Neal had handled the bulk of T.R. Miller's pitching duties. This season those duties have been equally divided with Ellis.
"I've got no problems with Halie getting to pitch a lot more this season. She has done a great job. It's taken a lot of burden off my shoulders. I know now I don't have to go out and pitch every game. It's also given me a chance to get to play other positions," Neal said.
Ellis has been able to notch her great postseason despite the fact she missed nearly three weeks of the regular season with a hairline fracture in her wrist. In fact, Ellis did not return to action until a week before the postseason started and responded with a one-hitter in an 11-0 win over W.S. Neal.
"It was a frustrating time for me when I was hurt. I could still pitch, but I couldn't throw the ball hard like I wanted," Ellis said.
Riggs said as well as Ellis is throwing, she still does not have all her strength back.
"Halie is getting closer to being 100 percent every day. As we keep advancing, it keeps giving her more time to heal," Riggs said.
Riggs said the Lady Tigers will need more pitching performances like the ones Ellis and Neal have recently posted in order to do well at the state tournament.
"When you get to that level, everybody has good pitching. You're going to have to win games 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 like we did against Montgomery Catholic. A lot of the time teams at that level will have one dominant pitcher which they will throw just about every game. We're fortunate to have two good ones in Halie and Rebekah, not to mention Leigh Cooper, who can throw if we need her," Riggs said.
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Neal said T.R. Miller's first ever trip to the state tournament is a great way for her to end her high school career.
"It's a great way for me to go out, but it's also a great feeling because it's the first time the program has ever gotten there," Neal said.
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