COLUMBIA — Sophomore Ryan Phillips was too focused to smile.
After a close first four innings, Rock Bridge was pulling away from Smith-Cotton. Up 8-3, runners stood on first and second base, with Phillips batting.
He already drove in four runners on three singles. But in his fifth at bat, he sent a high fastball flying over the left field fence.
As he began his home run trot, he still wore an emotionless facial expression. One thought ran through his mind: “Wow.”
Rounding third base, Rock Bridge coach Justin Towe asked him two simple questions: “Are you kidding me? What else do you want to do today?"
Most of the Bruins cleared the dugout to greet their newest slugger. After all, a home run is pretty uncommon in high school baseball. For the Bruins, it was the fifth* of the season, with three belonging to outfielder Max Byers and one to infielder Brendan James.
But even as Phillips crossed home plate, congratulated by most of his team, there was still no smile.
“That’s just something I kind of do,” Phillips said. “As soon as I got back into the dugout, (coach Ron Widbin) said, ‘Hey, if you’re not smiling now, then I don’t know when you’re going to.’”
Phillips does smile. It just takes a few little league memories, a time when he hit home runs frequently. When he hit four home runs in four at bats in the district qualifier for the Little League World Series in 2006 usually does the trick.
You can see both rows of his top and bottom braces when he thinks about that performance.
“Man, I wish I could hit like that still,” Phillips said.
Then, the distance to the left field fence was merely 200 feet. At Rock Bridge, the distance to the left field fence is 325 feet.
On Wednesday at practice, he could not imagine hitting a home run in high school. His three-run home run against Smith-Cotton not only gave him 7 runs batted in and four hits, but also a little more satisfaction in the hard work he puts in to become a great hitter, he said.
“He’s pretty serious,” Towe said. “He does have a good time, but he knows the game of baseball, he knows it will turn on you in just a second.”
The game didn’t turn on Rock Bridge (15-1) against Smith-Cotton, and they eventually won 11-3. The Bruins finished with 17 hits after starting the game down 3-0.
As a pitcher, Phillips improved to 6-0, but don’t expect him to smile.
“I just don’t show emotion very well,” Phillips said.