O’Neal taking one — well, 20 — for the team

OUCH!: Loyola’s Konnor O’Neal frequently takes the pain train to first base.

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

Loyola junior Konnor O’Neal will take a five-game hit streak into today’s game against Bossier. That may not seem like such a big deal for a high school baseball player until you consider that it’s a “hit” streak, not a “hitting” streak.

O’Neal has been hit by a pitch in five straight games for the Flyers and, to be honest, that doesn’t come as a great surprise to his teammates. It’s been happening all year.

When he got plunked in Saturday’s 13-8 win over Lakeside, it was the 20th time the Flyer third baseman has been hit by a pitch. This may be a better stat – he hasn’t gone two straight games all year without being hit by a pitch.

What’s the deal here? Did he steal someone’s girlfriend? Cut off someone in traffic?

“I guess I’m just a ball magnet,” O’Neal said.

He insists that he’s not leaning into pitches just to get a free trip to first base.

“I don’t crowd the plate,” he said. “The crazy thing about it is that I actually stand a good distance away from the plate.”

O’Neal estimates that he has been hit on the elbow more than any place else – “probably five or six times” – and there is still a seam mark on his arm from taking one for the team last week against North Webster.

“I’d say only about two or three have really hurt,” he says. “But I felt that one.”

“The fact that Konnor has been hit 20 times is ridiculous,” Loyola coach Jeff Hulett said. “He has done what it takes to make the offense happen.”

As you might imagine, O’Neal leads the team in on-base percentage at .630 – he has 15 walks to go with his 20 HBP, which means he’s reached base 35 times without even swinging the bat.

That’s why Hulett has him at the top of the lineup.

O’Neal is batting .372 and has scored 27 runs, including nine in the last four games. There have been only seven games in which he hasn’t been hit by a pitch.

“Most guys who are hitting .372 feel like they have earned the right to move out of the way,” Hulett said. “But Konnor knows the importance of being on base and how much havoc it creates for the other team.”

“I’m proud of it,” O’Neal said. “It’s not hard to wear a pitch. It’s a free bag and every time it happens, I throw my bat down and say ‘That’s another one.’”

O’Neal has also seen time on the mound for the Flyers, pitching 13 innings with a 1-0 record. And before you ask: yes, he has hit six batters.

O’Neal got a late start to his season after suffering two shoulder injuries – one in a preseason scrimmage and the other on March 11, causing him to miss a week of the season.

The Flyers (17-10) have already won the District 1-3A championship – their fifth in six years – and will attempt to finish it off with an unbeaten league record when they take on Bossier at 6 o’clock this evening at Rusheon Middle School.

Loyola has won five straight games and 9 of the last 11 to move into position to try to earn a home game in the Division II playoffs.

Photo by JOHN JAMES MARSHALL