Prep Baseball: North Rowan 5, Salisbury 4
By Nick Bowton
SPENCER ó Billy Veal stepped on homeplate, slammed his helmet to the ground with both hands and unleashed a triumphant yell.
He hadn’t just clinched a conference championship for North Rowan. Or even a winning season, for that matter.
But Veal and his Cavalier teammates had played the role of spoiler about as well as it can be played Friday night, winning their third game of the season and keeping rival Salisbury from claiming an outright CCC title with a 5-4 victory.
“This is one I’ll remember forever,” said Veal, who scored the winning run when Kyle Munday hit a ball to right field with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. “Best win this season, most memorable, against the biggest rival we have in the conference.
“Tonight was just our night. Nothing can beat that right there ó a comeback win.”
Take the opposite emotion and you’ve got Salisbury, its players leaving the field with their heads down after letting a seventh-inning lead and a clear-cut championship slip away.
The Hornets still will share the CCC title with one or two teams ó a considerable feat for a program that hasn’t won a conference championship since 1984 ó but Salisbury didn’t come to North to lose to its rival and share first place.
“It’s disappointing because they wanted to win it, and we’ve talked about it ever since we beat Ledford ó North’s been close all year to beating people,” said Salisbury coach Scott Maddox, whose Hornets will share the title with the winner of next week’s Central Davidson-West Davidson game and perhaps Ledford as well. “It’s not like they’ve come out and got slaughtered by people. And if we came over here and didn’t execute and didn’t do the little things, we’d get beat. That’s exactly what we did.
“We may end up in third place ó I don’t know how the tiebreakers work. But we made our own bed. We gotta find a way to battle back.”
Both teams battled back twice last night ó North just did so the final time.Senior Nick Smith gave the Cavaliers (3-16, 3-8) a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, hitting his first home run of the season to center field. Smith shined on senior night, as he went 3-for-3 with three RBIs. He came into the game with one RBI and a .200 batting average.
“This is probably my best game this year,” said Smith, who then paused to think about it. “Probably one of my best games in my high school career.”
After the first inning, Maddox challenged his team to play better, and the Hornets responded with four consecutive singles and three runs in the second. That lead held up until Raleigh Watson scored on a Smith single and Dakota Brown scored on a wild pitch to tie the score at 3-all in the bottom of the fifth.
Salisbury (16-6, 9-3) answered with a solo home run from Robbie Ijames ó his county-leading seventh of the season ó and the Hornets escaped trouble in the bottom of the sixth when Ben Ijames threw a pitch in the dirt and catcher Andrew Butler slid to the backstop, scooped the ball and threw to Ijames at home for the third out.
Butler’s hustle helped the Hornets evaded the game-tying run in the sixth, but they couldn’t do so again in the seventh.
Alex Britt relieved Ijames with two outs and a runner on second, and he walked Veal. Smith then singled to score the tying run, and Munday’s opposite-field hit to right sent the Hornets into a state of shock and the Cavs into a state of jubilation.
“I just gave up a pitch,” said Britt, Salisbury’s go-to pitcher. “It was straight down the middle. I wasn’t hitting my spots at all. I like pressure, but when I don’t hit my spots, it sucks.”
For Salisbury, yes, but North enjoyed every bit of its third victory of 2008.
“So many games we’ve played so close and then something happened there at the end, a break not going our way,” North coach Rob Linder said. “We battled back twice. When we went down 4-3, it’s tough. They’re probably thinking, ‘Here we go again, it’s not gonna happen.’
“But they battled through it, and it happened.”
Contact Nick Bowton at 704-797-4256 or email@example.com.