Legion Baseball: Rowan wraps up title in style
SALISBURY — If you’re ever asked to name the Rowan County pitcher who allowed two homers and still pitched a shutout, southpaw Connor Johnson is the answer to that trivia question.
On a freaky Friday, lightning, followed by heavy rain, halted Rowan’s game with Concord at Newman Park in the bottom of the sixth. Rowan led 19-3 at that point, but when the game could not be resumed, the official score reverted back to the last completed inning.
It was 17-0 after five, which Johnson didn’t seem to mind at all.
“With that kind of lead, I was just filling up the strike zone, throwing fastballs to guys looking for fastballs,” Johnson said. “But those homers didn’t count, anyway. So I guess my ERA is still low.”
Low and getting lower.
Johnson (3-0) set the tone for a Rowan romp with a five-pitch first inning. When he went back to the mound for his second inning of work, he already owned a 3-0 lead, thanks to red-hot Chance Bowden.
Bowden’s three-run homer over the left-field wall in his first at-bat got the slugging first baseman started on a 4-for-4 night with six RBIs.
“We ran into a buzz-saw tonight, and Rowan hit the ball no matter what we threw and no matter where we threw it,” Concord coach Tommy Small said. “It’s not like they just hit bad pitches. They hit some good pitches. That pitch Bowden hit out was a pretty good pitch.”
For Bowden, who was selected for the Area III All-Star game, along with Brian Bauk, Chase Hathcock and Nathan Fulbright, every pitch coming in his direction looks like a beachball right now.
“The homer did come on a good pitch,” Bowden agreed. “It was low and inside, but I got the barrel to it.”
Baseballs got barreled by a lot of people in the Rowan lineup. A five-run second blew it open, and an eight-run fourth made it pretty darn ugly.
“I really don’t know what happened because everyone was hitting tonight,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “I think Concord was just worn out from having to play an afternoon game (a 9-4 loss to Southern Rowan) before they even got here. But they’ve got some really good players, and that’s going to be a scary team for us to face in the first round of the playoffs.”
Small agreed Concord (8-13, 2-6) didn’t have anything left after losing a scrap to Southern Rowan.
“We lost a heartbreaker to Southern Rowan, a game that we had the lead in,” Small said. “It was a really long day in the heat. We were physically and mentally exhausted.”
Bauk, hitting in the No. 3 spot in front of Bowden, didn’t make an out. He scored four runs and drove in four. His two-run single in the second was a lucky bloop, but his two-run triple in the fourth was crushed.
The bottom guys in the lineup — Justin Evans, Fulbright and Riley Myers — combined for seven hits, scored five runs and knocked in three, as Rowan (17-7, 8-0) won its eighth straight game.
“This team always hits for me, and they always play defense for me,” Johnson said.
Bauk, in center field, made two terrific running catches, as Johnson faced only 20 batters through the five innings that mattered.
“Just locating fastballs mostly,” Johnson said. “But I got a few flyballs on off-speed stuff.”
Johnson was dominant until the sixth when Josh Chapman and Nick Coble went deep. But those homers were washed away, along with a two-run double by Rowan’s Taylor Garczynski, who gets few breaks.
The injury updates for Rowan were positive. Shortstop Ashton Fleming (ankle) played, and catcher Michael Pinkston (fingers) may not be out for an extended period.
Rowan will host a fresher Concord team in the opener of a best-of-five playoff series on Tuesday.