As the postseason draws near, teams will be turning to their top arms for do-or-die games.
While many seniors are looked to for the most important innings of the season, the Claxton Tigers have a sophomore as their ace in the hole.
Michael Peel has been Claxton’s most reliable pitcher throughout the season, an impressive feat with the Tigers’ senior-laden roster.
“We knew that Michael would be our No. 1 guy coming into the year,” said Claxton coach Donny Sikes. “He has really established himself in that role. When he’s on, he’s one of the best I’ve seen. Even when he doesn’t have everything going for him, he can battle and keep us in games. It gives the whole team a lot of confidence to know that he’s going to give us a chance to win every time we send him to the hill.”
In nine appearances this season, Peel has notched four wins and fanned 59 batters. Most impressive is Peel’s ability to keep the scoreboard clean. He has allowed just seven earned runs this year – good for a 1.04 ERA.
“It’s been a long season,” said Peel. “I’ve had a couple of ups and downs, but I think that it’s coming around here at the end of the year. You want to be at your best at the end of the season, and I think that the whole team is getting there.”
“Michael really expects a lot out of himself,” said Sikes. “That really helps to keep him motivated and always working to get a little bit better. You can’t teach stuff like that, but he’s definitely got it.”
Peel saved his best performance of the year for when Claxton needed him most.
Fighting for their postseason lives Tuesday evening, the Tigers visited a Portal squad that has put up good fights against everyone in Region 3-A. Desperate for a win, Peel responded. He mowed down the Panther lineup, firing a no-hitter and striking out 12 while his teammates responded with the offense for an 8-0 win.
“I just went out there and threw the ball,” said Peel. “I know that I have a good defense behind me, so I just wanted to throw strikes and make (Portal) work to get on base. Everything was just really working for me and all of my pitches were feeling good.”
Even when he isn’t on the mound, opposing teams have learned that Peel can still be a threat.
In a de facto play-in game for a spot in the region tournament Friday night against Savannah Country Day, the lanky righty let his bat do the talking. Peel rattled off three hits, including a decisive grand slam – his team-leading fifth home run of the season – that sent the Tigers on their way to an 8-3 win.
While he has already established himself as the ace of Claxton’s staff, Peel knows that he is still young and has room to improve.
“I think that I’ve progressed a lot from last year,” said Peel. “There’s definitely things to get better at this season and next year, too. I’m always working on location. It’s not enough to have good stuff if you can’t put your pitches where they need to be.”
With Friday’s win over SCD, Claxton moves on to the Region 3-A tournament. The Tigers will have to hit the road to take on top-seeded Treutlen County in a best of three series beginning next Friday. The teams will play the first game Friday evening, with the second game scheduled for Saturday afternoon and a decisive third game – if necessary – immediately following the second.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.