Prep Baseball Playoffs: East ready for Round 4
By Mike London
GRANITE QUARRY ó Chasing a long drive off the bat of Lake Norman’s Tyler Lewis on Friday, East Rowan center fielder Micah Jarrett stumbled and crashed to the ground as he sprinted up the incline near the fence at Staton Field.
East coaches Brian Hightower and Brian Hatley jogged to the outfield to check on Jarrett.
Jarrett was fine, and the stage was accidentally set for a match race back to the third-base dugout between Hatley and Hightower.
The Brians, both former Catawba players, glared at each other, got a feel for the wet grass and bolted. They lit out like Big Brown and Secretariat, as players cheered wildly.
Hightower, lighter by a lot, was the heavy favorite, even though no betting windows were open.
But it was Hatley by a nose. Then it was Hatley by a neck. Then it was Hatley, who put up unbelievable high school and Legion numbers at the turn of the century, by several yards.
Then it was Hatley chugging to the winners circle for a few high-fives, as a chagrined Hightower pulled up and surrendered.
“I know he’s got me by 10 years, but I figured he also has me by a hundred pounds,” Hightower said with a laugh. “I can’t believe how that big boy can run.”The moral of the story is things aren’t always what they appear, the list of sure things is short and underdogs must be respected.
Round 4 in the 3A playoffs for East is tonight at 7 p.m. at Staton Field. East plays a Mooresville team it’s beaten twice and trounced once, but it still should be a great ballgame.
NPC champion East (25-2) or NPC runner-up Mooresville (21-5) is headed to the best-of-three 3A Western final that is scheduled to be played Thursday, Friday and Saturday (if necessary).
South Point and R-S Central are the other teams still alive in the 3A West bracket.
Tonight’s potential starting pitchers would provide a contrast as interesting as Muggsy Bogues jumping center against Yao Ming to begin a basketball game.
Mooresville right-hander Chris Beaver is a 230-pound horse ó a young man strapping enough to rob banks in Hollywood westerns.
Beaver looks like a football player, and he is. He’s headed to James Madison as a tight end and long snapper, but he can still pump 90 mph fastballs when he’s on.
East’s Justin Roland (4-0) is from the opposite end of the gene pool. At 5-foot-7 in his cleats, Roland’s main occupation is shortstop, but his explosive fastball is shocking coming out of his compact body and his curve and changeup are effective.
Roland is East’s No. 2 pitcher right now, even with several other solid candidates. He’s allowed three earned runs in 35 innings.
When Roland pitches, East has to lose a little on defense, but Jarrett has a shortstop’s arm, Zach Smith can slide over from right field to patrol center. Matt Lefko, who takes over in right, may be the best player in the county without a regular job.
The Mustangs are No. 1 in 3A in the Impact Baseball poll, and many of the defensive numbers are numbing.
In 19 games against NPC teams, East has allowed 30 runs. Not earned runs ó runs. NPC opponents have scored in only 15 innings against East, while Mustang hurlers have put 108 zeroes on the scoreboard.
The Mustangs have allowed a total of two runs in their last five outings and blanked two playoff foes.
This is only the second team in East history to win as many as 25 games and the third in county history.
East’s 3A state champions were 29-1 in 1995. West’s 3A runner-up squad was 29-5 in 2004. Neither of those teams enjoyed a winning streak as long as East’s current run of 21 straight victories, which may be a county record.
East is 12-0 at Staton Field this season.
The Mustangs have won 29 straight games against 3A opponents. East hasn’t lost to a 3A squad since West Rowan outscored the Mustangs 13-11 in 2006.
East beat Mooresville 6-3 at Staton Field on March 7.
That game was mostly about Roland. He homered, knocked in three and pitched six shutout innings with eight strikeouts.
East’s game at Mooresville on April 15 essentially ended the NPC regular-season race. East left Race City with a 10-1 win and a three-game lead.
That contest was one-sided because of Corbin Shive. He pitched six shutout innings, hit two long homers and knocked in four.
The “Shive Game” and a shellacking from Northwest Cabarrus that followed put Mooresville in a tailspin that carried over to its next game against Lake Norman.
Mooresville fell behind, but Dylan West’s three-run, sixth-inning homer was a season-turner. The Blue Devils won in extra innings and haven’t looked back. Their only loss since April 18 was against West Rowan.
In the playoffs, Mooresville has sandwiched tough road wins at Fred T. Foard and Glenn around an 11-10, eight-inning gutcheck at home in a revenge game against West Rowan.
Last year, coach Jeff Burchett’s Mooresville team won its first conference title since 1985. It’s an experienced team with speed at the top of the lineup and no holes at the bottom.
West, the shortstop, has muscled huge homers, including a three-run blast at Foard that got his team rolling. He also hit one off Roland when he relieved Shive in the 10-1 game.
Jon Crucitti, a terrific sophomore third baseman, went 5-for-5, plus walks, against West Rowan and Glenn. He’s also due. He’s 0-for-6 against East this year.
Aaron Meadows, a strong-armed catcher, could diminish East’s running game.
Aaron’s brother, Aubrey, a Charlotte signee, impacts games with his arm, bat or glove. He’s been the key pitcher in all three playoff victories ó a start at Foard and poised relief outings against West Rowan and Glenn. He entered the game in the fourth inning against Glenn, got a bases-loaded strikeout and didn’t allow a hit the rest of the way.
Aubrey started on the mound in Mooresville’s March visit to Staton but had control issues. He walked eight and didn’t survive the fourth inning.
Beaver was unbeaten when he started against East at Mooresville. He also didn’t see the fifth.
Still, beating Mooresville a third time won’t be easy. Like Coach Hatley, Mooresville has too much talent to be an underdog.n
Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or email@example.com.