Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 24, 2007

By Nick Bowton
Salisbury Post
Eastern Randolph approached its game at Rowan County on Thursday as a non-division game. That meant plenty of non-regulars getting extended playing time.
Rowan approached the game as a chance to start another winning streak. That meant plenty of regulars providing plenty of offense.
One night after snapping a 10-game winning streak with a loss at Randolph County, Rowan routed Eastern Randolph 19-1 in seven innings at Newman Park.
“Last night I guess kind of made us mad,” Rowan shortstop Justin Roland said. “We lost our winning streak, so I guess we came out tonight wanting to start a new one ó and took it out on them.”
Rowan took out its frustration on three Eastern Randolph pitchers and scored in every inning.
Roland, the leadoff batter, went 2-for-3 with four RBIs and three runs and hit two doubles high off the wall in left field. Jason Ridenhour, batting second, was 3-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs, and he also hit a double. Rowan (17-2) had five doubles in all, and backup catcher Jacob Dobbins capped the scoring with a three-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“I know Rowan County doesn’t want to lose two games in a row,” said Eastern Randolph coach Eric Hall, whose team still leads the Northern Division of Area III but fell to 11-7 overall. “So I’m sure they had a little bit different approach at the start of the game.
“We tried to play some non-starters, and things just didn’t start out the way we wanted them to ó by no means.”
By the time Hall replaced starting pitcher Mikey Childress with no outs in the third inning, Rowan led 8-0.
While the barrage of both runs and hits ó Rowan had 16 ó helped the hosts avoid consecutive losses, Rowan coach Jim Gantt said he liked what he saw from his starting pitcher even more.
Phillip Hilliard struggled as a freshman at Wingate, and his problems carried over to the American Legion season. Hilliard entered Thursday’s game with 51/3 innings pitched and had a 6.75 ERA.
Against Eastern Randolph, he pitched six innings, struck out five batters and allowed no earned runs.
“He was kind of feeling his way through it again, like he has in his previous outings, and you could see his confidence build as it went,” Gantt said. “He kind of let it go. It looked like his arm freed up some, and the ball came out of his hand different. Obviously it’s still in there. You just gotta let it come out, and he did tonight.
“I’m real proud of him. It looked like the old Phillip.”
Added Hilliard: “First inning is mostly getting a groove and basically just getting into a good, constant motion. That’s all I was trying to find.
“It’s great. I’ve just been working on my mechanics, strengthening my arm, locating my pitches. You saw tonight that I came out and it worked for the best for me.”
With Rowan approaching the June 30 deadline to cut one player and get to the 18-player limit, Hilliard probably needed a performance like this one. As has been the case with almost the entire Rowan roster, players keep performing when given the opportunity.
“Every time each player goes out there it’s really a test. They can look at it as pressure or they can look at it as an opportunity,” Gantt said. “Tonight we said, ‘OK, it’s yours,’ and he came out and made the most of his opportunity. They’re certainly making those decisions tough.
“The last two weeks has really changed a lot of our thinking. We had to run ’em out there and let ’em have the opportunity to either do it or not do it. And, hell, they’ve come through.”
Contact Nick Bowton at 704-797-4256 or