Simpson handles first college start well

Simpson handles first college start well

COMPTON, Calif. -- Making your first collegiate start as a freshman pitcher is never an easy task.

And when you're making that start more than 2,500 miles away from your school, in a high-profile tournament at MLB's Urban Youth Academy, it doesn't get any easier.

But Bethune-Cookman left-hander Ali Simpson handled the pressure well, tossing 6 2/3 quality innings to lead the Wildcats to a 10-4 win over Southern University on Sunday in the final game of the second annual Urban Invitational at the Academy.

"He was definitely good today, and he gave us the edge," Bethune-Cookman head coach Mervyl Melendez. "He did a good job of keeping them off balance, and it gives some security to our hitters, because they know they don't have to do it all themselves."

Simpson was admittedly a little bit nervous before his start, and it showed early, as he allowed the first three runners to reach base before Melendez came to the mound and talked to him.

"Coach calmed me down a little bit," Simpson said. "He told me it was the same game I've been playing all my life."

Melendez's advice worked, as Simpson settled down and retired the next three batters. It gave him confidence, and he went on to allow just three runs on six hits over 6 2/3 innings while striking out nine.

"I'm super happy," Simpson said. "I couldn't ask for more. The offspeed stuff really kept them off balance. I knew that if I hit my spots, everything would work out."

Bethune-Cookman also got some help from its offense, which scored three runs in the opening inning and added two in the fourth and one in the sixth to take a 6-1 lead.

"Every time our pitchers don't do well early, it puts us in a disadvantage," Southern head coach Roger Cador said. "We just weren't able to overcome that situation. They scored those three runs early, and it made it difficult for us."

But Southern battled back by scoring three runs in the seventh. It had the bases loaded in the eighth inning before the Wildcats got Romey Bracey to line out to left to end the inning.

"He hit the ball pretty good, but right at someone," Cador said. "The key was that they were able to hit with runners on, and we weren't."

Bethune-Cookman then added four insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to put away the game.

It marked Bethune-Cookman's first win of the tournament and allowed all four participating teams to win at least one game.

The tournament, which also featured the University of San Diego and San Diego State University, helped spotlight Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) by giving them national exposure -- especially with MLB Network broadcasting both games on Saturday.

"It's an outstanding and amazing experience, not only for the coaches but for the guys," Melendez said. "This is unlike any tournament in the nation. Not only do you face the top teams in the country, but Major League Baseball sponsors it. It's truly special."

It also brought the HBCUs to the West Coast, as Bethune-Cookman is located in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Southern University is located in Baton Rouge, La.

The tournament helped promote the schools while also showing the success of both baseball programs. Bethune-Cookman has won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference three times in a row, and Southern has won 13 Southwestern Athletic Conference titles in 24 years under Cador.

The weekend proved to be a measuring stick, as the schools faced top competition by playing San Diego State and No. 11 San Diego. San Diego State beat San Diego, 3-0, at San Diego's Cunningham Stadium on Sunday.

The three-day event also featured a high school battle of the bands on Saturday and a college battle of the bands between Bethune-Cookman University's "Marching Wildcats" and Southern University's "Human Jukebox."

It was all part of a festive atmosphere all weekend that helped promote the HBCUs as well as baseball in the inner cities.

"It was a great success," Melendez said. "I speak for every team and every coach that this is a class-act tournament, and we want to be a part of it as long as Major League Baseball allows it."

Rhett Bollinger is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.