By Nick Bowton
The ball left Garrett Braun’s bat, and it looked like top-seeded Rowan County would need a bottom-of-the-ninth rally to beat a Mooresville team that had already committed nine errors.
One great defensive play prevented that.
On a night when Mooresville played its worst defensive game of the season, Rowan had to rely heavily on its own defense Monday to win 6-5 in the opening game of a best-of-five American Legion playoff series.
Mooresville had a runner on first with two outs when Braun doubled off the wall in right field in the top of the ninth inning, but D.C. Cranford hit his cut-off man, shortstop Justin Roland, and catcher Jacob Dobbins ended the game by tagging out Nathan Abraham at home plate.
“At first I thought it was gone,” Roland said. “D.C. played it perfect, made a strong throw to me. I wasn’t expecting to throw it home because I thought he’d score easy. But I looked up and he was about halfway, so I just threw it.
“Defense got us through that game ó defense on both sides is what won the game.”
Rowan won with defense because it had to.
Starting pitcher Keegan Linza lasted just 52/3 innings and allowed 10 hits and five earned runs. Rowan (27-2) didn’t hit the ball well, either, as Mooresville starter Brandon Padgett limited the hosts to six hits.
“Padgett was unbelievable,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “That was the difference ó he kept ’em in the game. When he had to make good pitches, important pitches, he did. That’s the best-pitched game that’s been pitched against us, I think.
“Down late in the game, he started throwing the ball really hard. It’s like all the sudden he got his confidence and he was like, ‘Here it is, see if you can hit it.’ And we couldn’t hit it.”
Fortunately for Rowan, Mooresville couldn’t field it either.The Moors (12-17) had nine errors, which led to three unearned runs. They struggled fielding ground balls and gave away extra bases on hits to the outfield.
“Worst game of the year defensively. Without a doubt,” said Mooresville coach Josh Graham, who was ejected in the sixth inning after arguing a call. “We’ve looked bad before, but we looked terrible. Some of the kids haven’t done stuff like that all year. It’s adrenaline. We’ve got six sophomores out there, and they’ve never been in a situation like this. This crowd is pretty intense.
“We were glad to make it competitive. Nine errors, you shouldn’t even be in the game.”
Mooresville not only stayed in the game ó it came a break or two away from winning.
Rowan trailed 4-2 going into the fifth inning but entered the sixth with a 6-4 lead. Micah Jarrett and Trey Holmes hit RBI singles in the inning, and a couple of errors in the outfield helped too.
That lead could have vanished in the sixth had two close calls gone Mooresville’s way.
Lead-off batter John Crucitti struck out to lead off the inning, but Dobbins couldn’t locate the ball as Crucitti ran toward first. The throw got there in time, but Holmes appeared to come off the bag. The base umpire ruled Crucitti out, and Graham was ejected a few minutes later. Eric Manser then singled but was picked off on another close call.
Those plays meant Sam Allen’s home run produced one run instead of three. Neither team scored again.
“That was huge,” Holmes said. “That game could have gone either way right there.”
NOTE: Cy Young will start for Rowan tonight against Nick Lomascola at Mooresville.-
Contact Nick Bowton at 704-797-4256 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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