Making long playoff trips is becoming an increasingly fun habit for Edwardsville Legion Post 199 pitcher and slugger Jevon Boyd.
Boyd pitched for the Kaskaskia College team that reached the Junior College World Series earlier this year and now finds himself in Indiana at the American Legion Great Lakes Regional.
"From our first practice when I saw the guys at tryouts, I said our pitching was going to be one of the main points of the year," said Boyd, who struck out eight and held Elk Grove to six hits during Edwardsville's run to the state championship last week in Trenton. "Our pitching staff is one of the main reasons we're in the regional right now. Everybody's stepped it up at the right time.
"This is a good class for baseball, a real good class. I've been playing with some of these guys for eight years."
Edwardsville (33-6) opens regional play at noon Thursday against Ash Port, Wis. (30-6) having outscored its opposition 27-1 in four state tournament victories.
Boyd is expected to be the Game 1 starter. The double-elimination event is being played at Bob Warn Field in Terre Haute, Ind.
Boyd has been making a larger impact on the Legion squad this summer --but he's also become a lot smaller in the process.
The college sophomore-to-be estimates he has lost more than 40 pounds since last summer and now is listed at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. As a result, he won't be using Google Maps trying to find the nearest McDonald's or Burger King while in Terre Haute.
"Now I eat lots of soup and drink lots of water instead of soda," said Boyd, who has done his best to cut out most of the junk food while taking his conditioning far more seriously. "At Kaskaskia we ran every day and after running, I didn't want go eat at McDonald's or eat a whole pizza like I used to in high school.
"Now I eat some soup and I'm full."
Boyd has been masterful this summer, compiling an 8-1 record and 0.66 ERA while striking out 90 in 63 1/3 innings with only 11 walks. He's also swinging a hot bat, hitting .346 with four homers and 28 RBIs.
Edwardsville Legion manager Ken Schaake has seen a big difference in Boyd this summer.
"He went away to school and hit the weightroom and is eating different, plus he's a year older," Schaake said. "Some of the games this year where he's thrown 100 pitches ... last year at 100 pitches we'd be struggling to get (him) out of the fourth or fifth inning, and now he's going nine innings.
"The consistency is a big difference and he's stronger and a year older."
Schaake said maturity also factored into the turnaround.
"He's composed, he challenges the hitters and he does not give in," Schaake said. "He's working the lower half of the strike zone and he's got a lot of confidence in his teammates."
Along with the state tourney success, Boyd homered and took a shutout deep into Edwardsville's 10-4 win over Fairview Heights in the Fifth Division championship.
He also took a perfect game into the final inning with nine strikeouts in a 7-0 Fifth Division victory over Steeleville.
Used exclusively out of the bullpen as a freshman this spring at Kaskaskia, Boyd was 0-1 with one save and a 3.55 ERA in 12 appearances. He also struck out nine in 12 2/3 innings with a fastball that hangs in the upper-80 to lower 90 mph range.
Kaskaskia finished 38-12 and reached the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.
"I was used to throwing one or two innings at the most in college, but as the year went on I got a lot stronger," Boyd said. "Before, my speed and arm angle wasn't there. Since I went to Kaskaskia all that's changed. I'm throwing more pitches for strikes and I've been lifting between starts, so I've been able to go more this summer."
Boyd admits that much of his pitching success can be traced to two people -- longtime Edwardsville High School pitching coach Mike Waldo and Boyd's uncle, former major league pitcher Jason Boyd.
Jason Boyd pitched in the majors from 1999 to 2004 with the Pirates, Phillies, Padres and Indians. He was the Phillies' eighth-round draft pick in 1994 after starring at Edwardsville High and John A. Logan College.
Waldo taught Jevon Boyd how to throw a slider his junior year.
"He always brought up how that was my uncle's best pitch throughout his career and in high school," Boyd said.
One day when Boyd was playing catch with his uncle, he refined his slider even more.
"I asked him to show me his slider grip and he taught me how to throw it," Jevon Boyd said. "You throw it like a football, basically. I've been working on it and I like throwing sliders now."