East squeezes past Trojans, 5 to 4
By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS ó East Rowan squeezed past Northwest Cabarrus 5-4 on Tuesday and took a big step toward winning its first conference championship since 2002.Ben DeCelle’s seventh-inning squeeze bunt plated Ethan Fisher with the winning run, capped a frenzied rally that was aided by five Northwest errors and kept East unbeaten in the NPC.
“Northwest has a great team and I love (coach) Joe Hubbard,” East coach Brian Hightower said. “But honestly, they gave this one to us.”
It did not look good early for the Mustangs, who found themselves in a 4-0 hole against hard-throwing right-hander Ryan Overcash. Davidson assistant Mike Zandler had a radar gun pointed at Overcash, who fanned 11 in five innings, and readings stayed in the upper 80s and soared as high as 91.
“Overcash was brilliant,” Hightower said. “We left seven on base in the first three innings. That was him buckling down and doing a great job.”
While East (11-2, 8-0) couldn’t take advantage of early opportunities, Northwest (9-4, 5-3) broke through in the third inning against Corbin Shive, who had not allowed a run all season.
With one out in the third, Jordan Phillips singled. He was erased when he was struck by a groundball off the bat of Daniel Welch, but Hunter Pate doubled. Northwest picked up its first run on a ball-four wild pitch to Overcash. Then Grayson Thompson walloped a no-doubt, three-run homer to left for a 4-0 lead.
“The great thing about Shive is he showed a lot of composure right there,” Hightower said. “He hasn’t given up a run all year, and all of a sudden it’s 4-0. But he keeps it at four and gives us a chance.”
DeCelle’s single, a wild pitch and Justin Roland’s single that second baseman Justin Seager couldn’t come up with in the hole got East on the board in the fourth.
Overcash struck out four batters in the inning, but strike three to Micah Jarrett bounced away, and Jarrett forced a wild throw to first by hustling down the line. Roland scored from second as the throw went into right field, and East trailed 4-2.
“With a four-run lead and Overcash on the mound we were feeling pretty comfortable,” Hubbard said. “But we needed to play a little defense, and we just didn’t make a couple of plays we’ve been making lately. But give East some credit. They put balls in play, and they run very well.”
East had extended at-bats and worked full counts against Overcash. That paid off. His pitch-count was in the 100 range after five frames, and Hubbard turned to lefty Matt Mariano to protect the lead.
East edged closer with a gift run in the sixth. Roland got an infield hit with two outs and scored when Zach Smith’s flyball to right was dropped.
The Mustangs produced the tying and go-ahead runs in the seventh with great execution and some breaks.
Trey Holmes started the seventh with a walk. Fisher was next, and a bunt to move the tying run into scoring positron seemed to be the percentage play.Hightower rolled the dice with a hit-and-run, and Fisher, a lefty hitter, couldn’t have rolled the ball in a better place. He slapped the ball past drawn-in third baseman Hunter Pate for a double that gave the Mustangs runners at second and third.
“We got the breaks tonight,” Fisher said. “That pitcher was hitting his spots, but the hit-and-run worked perfectly.”
Austin Shull followed with a solid at-bat and sent a flyball deep enough to right to score Holmes. East got a bonus when Steven Linker lost the handle while making the glove-to-hand transfer to throw home. The umpires ruled “no catch,” and East had runners at the corners with no outs.
One out later, DeCelle walked to the plate. He’s fast and already owned two infield hits, so a squeeze wasn’t a shock. DeCelle got the bunt down. Mariano’s only play was at first, and Fisher, who broke at just the right time, scored for a 5-4 lead.
“I knew the squeeze was coming when I went up there ó I didn’t even need a sign,” DeCelle said. ” I’ve got a lot of confidence in my bunting, and I got a great pitch to bunt. It was right down the middle, so I knew I had to get it down.”
Shive (4-0) gave way to Roland in the seventh, and the shortstop shut the door for his second save. He struck out two, then got a routine flyball to right after walking a batter.
It was an unusual game that included an umpiring reversal on a pickoff call and Northwest shortstop Ryan Lazenby being forced from the game by leg cramps in the fifth inning.
“We were pretty fortunate,” DeCelle said. “But capitalizing on the other team’s mistakes is the way we like to play.”
Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or firstname.lastname@example.org.