Simmons ignores pain, hurts Cougars

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 23, 2002

[04/21/02]Warren Central’s bats left Northwest Rankin coach Jeff McClaskey shaking his head.

Andrew Simmons’ pitching is what wowed WC coach Randy Broome Saturday as the Vikings won, 7-2, to take the first-round playoff series in the third game.

Brian Pettway hit two solo home runs his 15th and 16th of the year and John Morgan Mims added a fourth-inning grand slam to give Simmons some breathing room. Five of WC’s six hits went for extra bases.

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“He was throwing with a lot of pain,” Broome said of his junior right-hander, who has a cyst on the bone of his throwing shoulder. “The doctor said he couldn’t do any damage to it … if he could bear it. I just gave him the ball and said, Give me everything you can.’ ”

With a nasty curveball keeping the Cougars off balance, Simmons (6-0) surpassed all expectations. He allowed just three hits and no runs over the first 62/3 innings before losing his shutout. He struck out six, walked two and gave up five hits.

The Vikings (24-8) will face Tupelo (25-10), a 3-2 winner over Olive Branch in Game 3, in the second round. The series starts Friday because of state testing this week. The host has yet to be determined.

“It’s been hurting,” said Simmons, who was diagnosed with the problem about two weeks ago. “You just have to suck it up and throw.”

He lost the shutout on sophomore Joe Scalzi’s two-out, pinch-hit home run in the seventh inning. Simmons had retired 10 in a row before Brett Bukvich’s two-out infield single in the previous at-bat.

Pettway walked over and reassured Simmons after Brian Kirby followed Scalzi with a single.

“He just said, throw strikes and let them hit it,’ ” Simmons said while icing his shoulder.

Centerfielder Chris Hite bounced back after colliding with second baseman Joey Lieberman on T. Mac Howard’s bloop single in the third. Hite stayed on the ground for about five minutes, writhing in pain, before jogging back to his spot.

“People have been playing hurt for us all year,” Broome said. “Win, lose or draw, I would have been proud of (Simmons). I’m proud of all these kids. It takes all of us.”

McClaskey was proud of his three pitchers, too. Leighton Davis took the loss.

“If anybody had said they would get just six hits, I’d take it,” he said.

Pettway pushed his first homer over the right-field fence with two outs in the first. Lieberman followed with a ground-rule double to left, and Carl Upton doubled him in for a quick 3-0 lead. Pettway’s second homer, which came in the third, and Mims’ shot off side-armer Jonathan Johnston were no-doubters.

“This year we have lived and died by the home run,” said Broome, whose team lost Friday night on a squeeze play. “Our philosophy is to put it in play hard and good things will happen.”

That’s exactly what Mims did when he took out a little frustration on an inside fastball on a 2-0 count.

“I wish we wouldn’t have had to play today,” he said, adding that it was a good team test. “Last year, we didn’t have to play a Game 3.”

The Vikings went 8-0 through the playoffs last season en route to the Class 5A state championship.

McClaskey said WC still has what it takes to win it all again.

“There’s no doubt,” he said. “They have Pettway and Carl, and if you have two good pitchers, that’s what you need.”