COLUMBIA — A lofty foul ball down the right field line Tuesday at Rock Bridge field was more dangerous than it first seemed.
As the ball snaked back toward fair ground, Bruins pitching coach Ron Widbin grew a little worried. After all, three Bruins were chasing down the ball, hoping to make a play.
Rock Bridge vs. Francis Howell
Where: Francis Howell High School
When: 5 p.m. Friday
When first baseman DJ Christensen pulled up, second baseman Ryan Phillips snapped into a full lunge. Diving with his glove extended, the ball found a way past the fielder’s mitt, landing between three Rock Bridge players.
Phillips, who sat out the past three games from a concussion, was fine. But it was a flailing cleat that caught right fielder Max Byers on the forehead, leaving a cut trickling blood down his forehead.
“Of course, the guy’s got a stone head, so he’s all right,” Widbin said.
Byers’ cut did not need stitches. Equally important, Phillips popped right back up, evading what could have been a more serious head injury after his concussion last week, Rock Bridge head coach Justin Towe said.
Jogging back to his position, Phillips thought he probably shouldn’t have done that. Shortstop Zach Kurzejeski even looked at him, smiled, and said, “Dude, you scared the heck out of me.”
But for all the anxiety, Widbin was happy to see his player diving to make a play. In the quarterfinal game of the state playoffs last year, it was a diving play that helped the Bruins to win.
When right fielder Colby Gerau made his diving catch, he finished the double play with a throw to first base and ended the inning, killing the other team's rally, Widbin said. Even Towe said Gerau's catch was the biggest play he’s seen in Rock Bridge baseball history.
Phillips is just the high energy baseball player that is going to attempt to make those plays, Widbin said.
“You can’t put a steel arm around Ryan and protect him,” Widbin said. “He’s gonna play that way.”
Even minor cases of concussions are not taken lightly. For Phillips, it took a week of no swinging, no throwing and not even base running drills. The doctors even wanted 72 hours of no headaches before he played baseball again.
The waiting wasn't easy for Phillips.
“The last three nights he’s been so charged up to play,” Widbin said. “But now he’s happy again.”
When doctors and coaches cleared Phillips to play against Jefferson City (11-9) on Tuesday, he continued to play great baseball for Rock Bridge (18-2), Widbin said.
“He leads off, hits the first fastball and goes three for three,” Widbin said. “Everybody else just kind of follows suit. He makes us more aggressive at the plate.
“It’s good to have him back.”
Phillips made his presence obvious. Aside from his three hits, he also had two RBIs and three runs scored in only the first three innings. Offensively, he played a large role in Rock Bridge’s 12-2 victory, which took only five innings.
But what fans didn't see are the 300 cuts he took in batting practice Monday, or him working on his swing throughout the junior varsity game.
“When you take off a week, you start to lose your pop,” Phillips said.
The last thing Phillips will do is pull away from a chance to dive and catch a foul ball. That, he said, would be too easy.