By Nate Thompson
So it’s not a coincidence that the power he generates at the plate with his right-handed swing is comparable to the impact he made smacking pads against opponents on the football field.
Mona Shores varsity baseball coach Brandon Bard said he hasn’t coached a player with the frame or raw power of Neely, who entered this week hitting over .460. Through Tuesday, he had knocked in 23 RBIs, scored 17 runs and hit three home runs in 22 games.
“He’s very, very strong, and it doesn’t hurt he’s put in a lot of time in the weight room for football,” Bard said.
The Sailors, fresh off another Tier 1 championship at the GMAA Tournament at Marsh Field in Muskegon last Saturday, currently sport a 17-5 record and are on top of the O-K Black Conference standings with an 11-1 mark. Neely was on fire at the plate during the GMAA tournament, going 9-of-13 with eight RBIs and a home run.
Bard said Neely was the Sailors’ best hitter as a sophomore two years ago, but got off to a slow start at the beginning of his junior season, and when he didn’t improve, his confidence was shaken.
“I think a lot of it was mental,” Neely said. “It was like I just could not get the bat on the ball. Now, I feel like I’m right back at it.”
Bard said they made some minor adjustments to Neely’s swing during the offseason, and was encouraged when he began smashing the ball this spring, right from the get-go.
“It’s such a short season, that if you have a bad stretch, it can be hard to recover,” Bard said. “That’s why it’s imperative for guys to get off to a good start, and Jackson got off to a very good start.”
Neely, who typically plays left field or third base, said he’s taking a simplistic approach at the plate. He said he’s seeing the ball better than he ever has, and he’s just focusing on hitting and seeing where it goes.
He had a chance to see one travel quite far during the GMAA championship game against Orchard View, when his sixth-inning home run easily cleared the left field fence.
“When it first came off the bat, I didn’t even think I hit it that well,” he said. “It wasn’t until the left fielder and center fielder turned around and watched it that I knew I’d hit it out.”
Neely said he started playing baseball in the second grade, and has loved the game from Little League through the past few summers of travel ball with the West Michigan Riptide. But success in football, and a scholarship offer from Division 2 Wayne State University, steered him to a future on the gridiron.
He said Wayne State envisions him as a future fullback, and he recently visited the Detroit-area school for its spring game. Neely said he’s proud to keep the Mona Shores pipeline to the school thriving. The Warriors roster currently features five former Sailors – Keontae Watson, Chuckie Anthony, DeAnthony Davis, DeOntay Moffett, and Darece Roberson.
“They’ve followed the same path, so it’s nice to have them to talk to,” Neely said. “They’ve been able to fill me in on what I need to do. They’ve let me know about Freshmen Friday, which is a really intense workout that we’ve got to go through.”
But right now, Neely is laser-focused on leading the Sailors to postseason success on the diamond, which in recent years has not materialized. A year ago, they were upset by rival Reeths-Puffer in the Division 1 pre-districts.
“It seems like we’ve been one play away the last few years,” Bard said. “I believe this group is hungrier. They realize it comes down to execution. If you’re able to execute the bunt game, if you’re able to run, if you’re the team that commits the fewest errors, those are typically the deciding factors if you’ll live to play another day.”
Neely won’t argue with his coach’s logic, but prefers a slugger’s mental approach.
“We have to keep swinging the bats they way we have,” he said. “You can’t win without scoring more runs than the team you’re facing.”