Prep Baseball: East falls to unbeaten RJR

East's Luke Setzer
East's Luke Setzer

GRANITE QUARRY — Unbeaten R.J.Reynolds edged East Rowan 4-3 at Staton Field in a game that came down to the last pitch.

East Rowan coach Brian Hightower and his team didn’t take the tough loss hard. Except for the ‘W,” the Mustangs got exactly what they wanted out of Saturday’s non-conference game.

“We saw really good arms today,” East center fielder Luke Setzer said. “And we saw a team that wasn’t afraid to swing the bats. I think we’re a pretty good team right now, but this game moved us another smidgen closer to being great.”

East is 6-5, so great is probably a stretch. Still, East is good, much better than a year ago now that Dustin Ritchie and Ike Freeman are healthy, and it’s unlikely the Mustangs will face anyone in the SPC any tougher than Robby Casey, the 6-foot-7 junior right-hander who started for the Demons, or UNC commitment Logan Welch, a junior who closed out the game.

East had Ritchie, its leading hitter, at the plate at the end, Welch struck him out on a slider in the dirt.

It was a nasty pitch.

RJR catcher Stephen Greene somehow was able to block the ball and make the throw to first to send fans back to their TV sets for more March Madness.

“That guy is in the No. 4 hole for a reason, he’s got power, and he can hurt you,” Reynolds coach Doug Welch said. “We were going to take our chances with the slider there, and if we walked Ritchie, we walked him, and then we’d go after the next guy (Setzer)with a fresh count. Our catcher made a super play.”

Most of the drama came in the bottom of the seventh.

East trailed 4-1 entering the frame, but sidearming reliever Shane Sullivan, who started at shortstop, walked Seth Wyrick and hit Michael Caldwell and Ty Beck with pitches to put the tying runs on base, with no outs, and with East’s 3-4-5 hitters coming up.

Sullivan returned to shortstop. Welch, the coach’s son, took the ball.

Freeman couldn’t have hit Welch’s pitch any harder and it burned through the infield at Sullivan, who threw himself at the missile, knocked it down and kept it in front of him.

“He looked like a hockey goalie,” Coach Welch said. “He was determined that ball wasn’t going to get through.”

As a run scored, Sullivan recovered the ball and flipped it to the second baseman for a forceout.

When the relay to first sailed wildly, another run crossed for East, and it was 4-3.

But Freeman was still at first base, and Greene threw him out trying to swipe second. Then Welch recorded his game-ending strikeout.

The stories early were East pitcher Harrison Bell, who kept the Demons (8-0) quiet a long time, and Setzer, who hit a solo homer and threw out a runner at the plate.

“Everyone was telling me what a good team we were playing, but I was able to hit corners and we had good defense,” Bell said. “I hate we didn’t get the win, but this game helped my confidence.”

East had a costly error in the third that gave Welch a chance to hit with two men on. And that’s when Bell made his only big mistake — a breaking ball on the inner part of the plate.

Welch sent it skipping down the left-field line to plate two teammates.

“Harrison gave us quality innings,” Hightower said. “He was hitting that outside corner pretty good with his curveball. He just missed his spot with that one pitch and he missed it to a good hitter.”

East made it 2-1 in the fourth when Setzer launched a rocket out of the park for the first run Casey has allowed all season.

“I was just trying to find a fastball to hit, and I got one on 3-2,” Setzer said. “I’d been struggling a little bit, and the pitch was a little bit low, but I got the bathead on it.”

RJR finally knocked out Bell in the sixth, and Ben Cook and Warren Hill had RBI singles against reliever Chase Jarrett.

Setzer made a strong throw from center to Ritchie to cut another runner down at the plate.

East had good at-bats for the most part, striking out only four times. Mason Doby had a solid double and stroked another line drive that was caught by second baseman Bailey Tyner.

“That was a really good team we played, but we know what our lineup is what it can do and today helped us define our pitching roles,” said Hightower, who watched Joseph Peeler throw a strong seventh. “We need to get better, but we’re getting there.”

Reynolds, off to a 2-0 start in the CPC, takes on Davie twice next week.

“East Rowan is a lot like the teams in our league,” Coach Welch said. “Anytime you can schedule East Rowan you do it because it helps you prepare for conference. They’re sound. Baseball is about learning, and you can learn something every time you watch East Rowan play.”

The Mustangs are scheduled to play at Northwest Cabarrus on Tuesday, weather permitting.

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