HOOVER, Ala. — A year ago, Will Neely was on the hill in Murfreesboro working toward a TSSAA Class AAA state championship.
On Tuesday night, the 5-foot-11, 160-pounder took to the mound with the weight of Tennessee's baseball life on his shoulders, facing the No. 7-ranked LSU Tigers no less.
The Hardin Valley (Tenn.) High School product responded, pitching into the seventh inning, allowing just one run that came after his exit. Neely struck out three while allowing five hits and one walk.
After 84 pitches (56 strikes) on four days rest, coach Dave Serrano pulled Neely from the game in the seventh.
"I'm very proud of how Will threw," Serrano said. "Unfortunately, we couldn't finish the job and that's the ultimate, the biggest deal."
The freshman walked to the Big Orange dugout under a large ovation from the Tennessee contingent.
"It was tough (to make the pitching change)," Serrano said, "but it wasn't as tough because I felt the guys behind him were fresh. We had nine outs to go. It just didn't work out our way."
It went downhill from there for the Volunteers in a 5-4 season-ending loss and another early exit from the Southeastern Conference tournament. However, coaches on Rocky Top know that much more of what they have in Neely going forward.