By David Shaw
Salisbury PostIt’s time to add Joe Kesler’s name to the “Red Hot Hitters” list.
Rowan County’s No. 8 batter produced three run-scoring hits Friday night at Newman Park ó including the game-winner with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 7-6 victory over Randolph County.
“It was just one of those nights,” Kesler said after boosting his average to a lusty .417. “I could see the ball really well tonight. Everything they threw to me, I felt like I could hit hard.”
Kesler helped Rowan (8-1) gain its second straight win with an RBI double in the third inning, a run-scoring single in the fifth and another single that delivered teammate Trey Holmes on the game’s final pitch.
“Joe does what he does,” coach Jim Gantt said. “He stays within himself. He’s a good, solid contact hitter who doesn’t try to hit the ball out of the park. He know that’s not his game. But he’s been well-coached and well-taught and knows how to win.”
Kesler was no ordinary Joe against Randolph (10-5), a strong team from the Northern Division of Area III. He won the game by punching an 0-2 fastball from Randolph reliever Tyler McSwain into right-center field, giving the locals their second come-from-behind victory.
“After he threw the first two by me, I just choked up and tried to be real short with it,” Kesler said. “It’s all I could do ó just try to put it in play.”
It capped an evening that saw Rowan fall behind 4-0 in the second inning. Starting pitcher Corbin Shive was ineffective and appeared uncomfortable on the mound. He ran into double trouble in the first, when Randolph used two-baggers by Ben Bunting and Steven Davis to open the scoring. In the second Hunter Ridge belted the first of his two doubles, Bunting coaxed a bases-loaded walk, and Neal Pritchard whistled a two-out, two-run single off the center-field wall.
“(Shive) couldn’t find any rhythm,” Gantt said after the Shive allowed five runs on nine hits in four innings. “And we weren’t playing exceptionally well behind him. There were a couple of balls we could have made plays on but didn’t.”
Rowan caught several breaks over the next two innings ó when Randolph committed four of its five errors ó to take a 5-4 lead after three innings. Jacob Dobbins grounded a run-scoring single into left for one run, and Kesler’s double to left made it 4-3. The other runs were unearned.
“That’s kind of the story of the game,” Post 45 coach Ronnie Pugh said. “And that’s not like us at all. Usually defense is one of the better parts of our game. We take a lot of pride in our defense, but you wouldn’t know it from tonight.”
After Randolph tied the score 5-5, Gantt summoned fireman Matt Hall from the Rowan bullpen. He escaped a fifth-inning jam by striking out the side, then retired 10 of the next 12 hitters he faced.
“I found it. I found a groove,” Hall said after tossing 42/3 innings of two-hit relief. “Before tonight I had only pitched one inning, so I was well-rested. But I got my concentration back and just focused on pitching.”
With Rowan clinging to a 6-5 lead, Hall yielded Pritchard’s leadoff single in the ninth. A sacrifice and a groundout moved Pritchard to third base with no outs. That’s when Gantt opted to bring in lefty Lee Dupre to face Ridge, a left-handed batter with power.
“Matt’s a bulldog with good stuff,” Gantt said. “If I had stayed out of it coaching-wise, he might have won the thing in the ninth.”
Instead, Ridge lined Dupre’s second pitch into center field and allowed Holmes ó who smacked a leadoff double in the ninth ó and Kesler to seal the deal.
NOTES: Rowan sends Keegan Linza to the mound for tonight’s league game at Wilkes County. Cy Young is scheduled to start when Rowan returns home Sunday for a 7:30 p.m. game against Statesville.
Contact David Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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