Simmons 5 for 5 in Game 1
Published 1:54 pm Tuesday, May 16, 2023
By Brian Pitts
After a grueling stretch in which Davie’s baseball team lost 5-4 to Glenn, won 5-4 over East Forsyth and lost 5-4 to West Forsyth, the War Eagles were able to enjoy a relatively stress-free game in the first round of the 4-A playoffs.
Davie crushed the ball all over the place, Parker Simmons and Davin Whitaker had monster games and the War Eagles blew out Ragsdale, 12-1, on the road on May 9.
Davie, the 18th seed in the West Region, won its first playoff game since 2019 and improved to 15-10. The 15th-seeded Tigers closed shop at 18-7 after finishing second in the eight-team Metro Conference.
“We played good defense, we threw strikes and we passed the baton to the next guy,” coach Joey Anderson said. “We weren’t swinging for the fences.”
Offensively, the War Eagles did all the damage they needed in the top of the second inning. After Drew Krause and Ty Miller reached, Coy James mashed a triple. Two pitches later, Simmons singled. Then D. Whitaker made it three straight hits as Davie surged to a 4-0 lead.
They put up a twice-as-big crooked number in the seventh to break Ragsdale’s back. A Simmons single ignited a six-hit, eight-run eruption. Whitaker (double), MJ Jacobs and Jackson Sink kept the merry-go-round going with hits. It really got out of hand when Simmons got his second hit of the inning, a three-run double. As if that wasn’t enough, D. Whitaker capped it off with a triple as Davie’s lead mushroomed to 12-1.
Simmons and D. Whitaker went absolutely bonkers. The former went 5 for 5 with three runs and four RBIs in the two hole. The latter went 4-5 in the three hole.
Simmons distinguished himself by hitting .322 last year as a junior, but he struggled badly at the beginning of 2023. Batting anywhere from seventh to ninth in the first six games, he started 0 for 13. He moved up to the two hole for the March 16 home game against East Forsyth, a 5-1 win, and he made Anderson look like a genius. In the 19 games between March 16 and Ragsdale, Simmons hit .379 (22 for 58). At Ragsdale, his average soared from .257 to .309.
Wait, there’s more. Simmons’ 5-for-5 work in the first rounder was the Davie’s first five-hit performance between 1999-2023, a span of 574 games.
“We’ve been watching him grow year by year,” Anderson said. “He struggled a little bit early. When you see a D-I guy as many times as we do, you’re not going to have a Coy James batting average. He’s worked hard and he’s stepped up.”
“Being my senior year, I was frustrated with getting off to a slow start,” Simmons said. “I wasn’t seeing the ball well and wasn’t finding the barrel. Nothing was really working for me.
“It all kind of changed when coach Joey moved me into the two hole against East Forsyth,” Simmons continued. “I was confused about why he moved me to the two hole, but batting me between Coy and Davin has worked out for us. I’m thankful it’s picked up, especially at this time in the playoffs.”
Interestingly enough, the seventh-inning double was Simmons’ first extra-base hit in two years; his other 40 hits were singles.
“I got fastballs all night, so I was expecting a curveball or something offspeed,” Simmons said. “I sat curveball, I guessed right and I hit a double to left-center.”
D. Whitaker was slow out of the gate as well. After seven games, he was at .166 (3 for 18). What’s he hitting since then? How about .442 over 18 games (23 for 52). For the season, the senior left Ragsdale at .371 with a .900 slugging percentage and a .494 on-base percentage.
“Those (five) seniors have stepped up,” Anderson said.
“Davin’s really hard on himself in practice, but in the games it shows he works a lot because he’s been in a groove,” Simmons said. “I mean there’s nobody that can throw it by him.”
“I was squaring balls up and they were going straight to people (in the first seven games),” D. Whitaker said. “But that’s baseball. I’m making a team swing and not a me swing. Earlier in the year, I was going up there for me. The more you focus on the team, the better the outcome is.”
Meanwhile, Braeden Rodgers showed impressive poise on the mound when the Tigers had a chance to make noise in the fifth. The score was 4-1 and they had runners at the corners with no outs. Rodgers fielded a dribbler back to the mound, faked a throw to second and quickly spun around. He had the runner from third in a pickle. He threw to third baseman Brady Marshall and Marshall threw to catcher Krause for a 1-5-2 out. With runners at first and third and one out, Rodgers snared a liner and doubled up the runner at third to end the threat.
“The turning point in the game was (the bottom of the fifth),” Anderson said. “You saw the air go out of Ragsdale at that point.”
Rodgers threw six strong innings. The only run was unearned as he walked two and struck out eight. He ran his record to 6-1 and lowered his ERA to 1.90.
“That dynamic duo has kept us in games,” Anderson said of Rodgers and Jaydon Holder.
Reliever Connor Berg added the exclamation point in the bottom of the seventh. The junior missed an immaculate inning by a hair, striking out three batters on 10 pitches. The first batter he faced: strike swinging, strike looking, strike swinging. The second batter: strike looking, strike swinging, foul ball, strike swinging. The third batter: strike looking, foul ball, strike swinging. The same result in nine pitches would have qualified for the extremely rare immaculate inning.
“Connor was locked in,” Anderson said. “(Joey) Cress told him to attack and that’s what he did. He’s accepted that (relief) role and there’s a chance that he can pitch every game.”
Notes: James had a routine night by going 2 for 4 with his fifth triple. Here are his glittering numbers for the season: .460 average, .828 slugging percentage, .559 on-base percentage. He has 17 extra-base hits among his 35 total hits, and he has 17 walks/hit by pitches. … Sink went 2 for 4 as Davie outhit Ragsdale 15-6. … In the other first-round games involving the Central Piedmont Conference, No. 8 Hopewell beat No. 25 Glenn 4-3, No. 14 West Forsyth beat No. 19 Charlotte Catholic 5-4, No. 10 Reagan beat No. 23 South Mecklenburg 1-0 and No. 2 East Forsyth beat No. 31 Olympic 8-3.