116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS – Alex Neal was introduced to baseball when he was 4 years old.
The Cedar Rapids Xavier junior had a natural attraction to it from the start.
“Baseball is my favorite sport,” said Neal, who also plays football and basketball. “I’ve just always been in love with the game.”
Neal demonstrated his knack for the game, helping Class 3A 10th-ranked Cedar Rapids Xavier to a Mississippi Valley Conference doubleheader split with 4A No. 9 Cedar Falls Friday night at Mount Mercy’s Robert W. Plaster Athletic Complex. He threw a complete game and accounted for four runs in a 5-2 victory in the opener. The Tigers rebounded with a 12-1 win in five innings.
Neal allowed just one earned run on three hits and struck out eight on the mound. He went 2-for-2 with a walk, scored twice and drove in two runs in the first game. He had an RBI single in Game 2.
“Alex is just a baseball player,” Xavier Coach Dan Halter said. “Whether he’s pitching, shortstop, hitting, he just loves the game. He will do whatever it takes to help us win. He’s helping in all three areas, which is beautiful.”
Xavier (3-2) graduated seven pitchers from last year’s team. Neal and Luke Potter returned with the most experience. The Saints needed an ace and Neal has earned two of their opening-week wins.
“A ton of arms left,” Neal said. “I knew we were all going to have to come and throw well. It’s as simple as that.
“We had to come and pitch. So far, we’ve been doing that.”
The Tigers (2-1) struggled to solve Neal, managing multiple baserunners in just two innings and advancing three to third base. Neal hit his groove in the middle innings, retiring 12 straight batters from the third through the seventh inning.
“Just mixing my pitches,” Neal said. “If you get a first-pitch strike, you’re able to play with them a little bit. Mixing it up on the batter really creates easier outs.”
Getting ahead in the count was key. In his second start of the week, he was able to limit his pitch count with accuracy. He threw 55 pitches in five innings in his first outing. He finished with just 89 Friday.
“His efficiency with the pitch count makes our lives easy, because we don’t want him to go long or heavy,” Halter said. “He’s pounding the zone. He’s reading the hitters, knowing he doesn’t need to get cute if he doesn’t have to.”
The Saints managed just four hits, but manufactured two in the second when Neal and Aidan Henry led off with consecutive singles. Neal scored on a fielder’s choice, avoiding a tag on the way to the plate. Henry scored on a double steal for a 2-1 lead.
Neal walked and scored on Brody Hoffmann’s groundout in the fourth. He made it 5-1 with a two-run single to chase home Sean Steffen and Griffin Maloney in the fifth.
“I saw the second baseman was playing more up the middle, because on my first at-bat that is where I hit it,” Neal said. “I just wanted to get a little dinker over there. We got two runs.”
In the nightcap, Cedar Falls jumped to a 5-0 lead in the first, capitalizing on some walks and fielding miscues. The Tigers added two in the second and iced it with five in the fourth. Brody Bartlett had a three-run double and Caleb Paisty and Connor Woods had two hits apiece for Cedar Falls.