Published 12:00 am Friday, August 10, 2007
By Bret Strelow
GARNER ó The season-ending loss occurred Friday afternoon, but a heartbreaking defeat 16 hours earlier set the wheels in motion.
Rowan County opened the American Legion state tournament with a victory against defending champion Morehead City but suffered back-to-back setbacks in the double-elimination event.
Wayne County won 19-1 in seven innings Friday at Trojan Park. Rowan (40-7) had dropped into the losers’ bracket with an 8-7 loss to Cherryville on Thursday night.
Wayne (25-5) scored three times in the top of the first inning and enjoyed seven-run outbursts in the third and fourth frames to claim a 17-0 advantage.
“Sometimes it’s easier to swallow this way,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “I think this game was probably lost (Thursday) night. There were a lot of good memories for the season, though.
“We lost some good players last year, but we had a better team this year. They played together and had a whole lot of fun.”
A victory on Thursday would have left Rowan as one of two unbeaten squads remaining in the eight-team tournament, but Cherryville prevailed even though it trailed 6-1 heading to the bottom of the sixth inning.
Rowan tied the game with a run in the eighth, but Cherryville’s Jake Watts hit a walkoff single with two outs in the ninth.
“I think losing (Thursday) night so close and the way we almost gave the game away, it kind of impacted us and kind of broke our spirits a little,” Rowan infielder/pitcher Weston Church said. “I thought we regrouped, but today they just hit the ball early.”
Church started on the mound against Wayne, which had won 9-4 against Randolph County on Thursday.
Church walked Jackson Massey to begin Friday’s game. Walker Gourley followed with a two-run homer, and another run scored on Zach Wright’s two-out double.
Church retired the side in order in the second inning, but Massey’s two-run homer in the third off reliever Matt Hall put Wayne ahead 10-0. Rowan committed four errors in the inning, and six of Wayne’s seven runs were unearned.
The first six batters in Wayne’s half of the fourth reached, and Rowan allowed seven more runs on seven hits.
“It’s the first time we’ve hit it like that all year,” Wayne County coach Brad Reaves said. “We knew we had the potential to do that, but we’re so young we just haven’t done it.”
Wayne lost its tournament opener 11-0 to Caldwell County, and Grant Sasser allowed seven runs (four earned) in a relief effort. Sasser, who is headed to North Carolina State, limited Rowan to one hit and one unearned run in six innings.
Sasser retired the first nine batters, and Justin Roland reached on an error to begin the bottom of the fourth. Jason Ridenhour collected an infield hit and Roland scored on Church’s sacrifice fly.
A seventh-inning single by catcher Jacob Dobbins was Rowan’s only other hit. All 16 available players saw action, and they had plenty of time to digest the final defeat.
The end of Dobbins’ prep career was much more abrupt. A bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the seventh inning gave West Lincoln a 6-5 victory against North Rowan in the second round of the 2A playoffs.
“This game was a hard way to lose, 19-1, but sometimes it’s better to lose this way than to lose a close one like (Thursday) night,” Dobbins said. “I know during my high school season we lost a close one at the end of the season, one run in the last inning. That’s just not a good way to go out.”
Rowan suffered through a humbling defeat ó its worst in at least the past decade ó but the forgettable ending came at the conclusion of a memorable summer.
Rowan won the Southern Division of Area III with a 19-1 record and clinched its first state tournament berth since 2002 thanks to playoff sweeps of Mooresville, Lexington and Kernersville.
“We had a great season, but today we came out and it just wasn’t our day,” Church said. “It’s a rough way to go out, but it happens.
“I’m really proud of all of us. I think we did more than most people would expect. I’m just glad we got so far.”
The state tournament runs through Sunday, and many of Rowan’s players will take much-needed breaks over the next few days.
Starting catcher Ross Steedley injured his right knee on June 24, and Dobbins dutifully donned catcher’s gear for the final seven weeks of the season. All three of Rowan’s tournament games ótwo of which started before 1 p.m. ó were played in intense heat.
“It was fun getting to play every day,” Dobbins said. “I enjoyed it, but it was starting to wear on me. I started to wear down a little bit that last week. I think I might head to the beach.”
Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or firstname.lastname@example.org.