F&M Baseball Classic: Defense wins this one for West Rowan
KANNAPOLIS — The weather — and the leather — were perfect for West Rowan on Saturday evening as the Falcons wrapped up an unbeaten run in the F&M Bank Classic.
“We’ve had a tough two years as far as errors,” West’s Nick Collins said. “But we had none as a team today. And when we keep those errors off the board, we should win.”
West can swing it, but a 5-1 win against Mount Pleasant was mostly about Michael Ball’s three-hitter and some airtight defense.
“When we play defense, I like our chances,” West coach Chad Parker said. “And this is a very good time for us to be playing well with a really tough week ahead of us.”
Looming for West (14-2) are home games with South Rowan, Davie and East Rowan in a four-day span. West, which is contending for its first league title since 2006, can beat anyone if it defends as it did Saturday.
“I was locating my fastball well all day,” Ball said. “But the defense helped me out so many times.”
Third baseman Juan Garcia and first baseman Justin Evans made backhand plays. Shortstop Hunter Teeter, second baseman Jeremy Simpson and center fielder Taylor Garczynski made better-than-routine plays up the middle.
And to say Collins made a good play in left field is like saying Lassie was a good dog.
On a third-inning drive to the left-center gap that looked like a sure extra-base hit, he suddenly went airborne and made a flying, tumbling catch.
“I’ve played outfield most of my life, so I know how the ball is gonna fly by instinct,” explained Collins, an athlete who starts at linebacker on the football team. “I read it and went and got it.”
Mount Pleasant coach Tommy Small has instructed Collins at some Pfeiffer camps, so there was some pride mixed with the pain that Collins’ amazing grab caused. Small came over after the game to give Collins a pat on the back and a few words of praise.
Parker agreed that the special catch, which occurred with West leading 3-0, was pretty huge. A leadoff double became out No. 1 in a blink, and that pumps up a pitcher and a team.
“That was one heck of a play and it gave us momentum,” Parker said. “Ball filled up the strike zone and was outstanding, and it’s got to be fun to pitch when guys are laying out and making plays like that.”
The only problems Ball (4-1 this season and 13-3 over the last two) had were with Liberty signee Nick Coble, who bats second for the Tigers (6-8). Coble doubled to deep center in the first, although West shot him down trying for third base— 8-6-5— with two accurate throws.
Coble walloped a solo homer leading off the fourth for MP’s run.
“That guy is good,” Ball said. “He hit high fastballs that were supposed to be higher.”
West put together a decisive three-run second inning against Mount Pleasant lefty Ty Pruitt. Teeter started it with a single and a stolen base. Back-to-back doubles by Collins and Garcia made it 2-0. Jeremy Simpson’s single moved Garcia to third, and he scored on Bubba McLaughlin’s groundout.
Collins’ advance from second to third on a wild pitch that only got away a few feet put him in position to score on Simpson’s suicide squeeze to make it 4-1 in the fourth.
“We’re going to go on dirt balls,” Collins said. “We want to stay aggressive.”
Collins failed to get down a sac bunt in the sixth, but then he blooped a single that helped West score its final run on Simpson’s groundball.
Collins, on this day, could do no wrong. He over-ran a flyball in the seventh, but he still made a jumping catch and held on as he crashed to the grass.
“I made it sort of tough on myself on that one,” he said with a smile.
The rest of the day he made things tough for the Tigers.