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Prep Baseball: Mustangs win thriller to advance

By Nick Bowton
Salisbury Post
GRANITE QUARRY ó The winning streak, the perfect home record, the aspirations for a state title. All of them appeared lost when East Rowan came to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning Tuesday night against Mooresville.
The Mustangs trailed by four runs, had the bottom of their order up and were in danger of being shut out for the first time all season. Mooresville fans could sense an upset victory.
Then East showed why it has the winning streak, the perfect home record and the title hopes. The Mustangs scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh, without recording an out, to rally for a stunning, 5-4 victory in the fourth round of the 3A playoffs.
“We’ve had two situations, three situations where we could have lost,” said East coach Brian Hightower, whose team extended its winning streak to 22 games. “The West Rowan game we were down 5-4 going into the sixth, Northwest had us 4-2, and then (Mooresville) had us. Each time, it’s been gut-check time.
“Through all the Legion ball and things like that, playing all the time, they’re used to these types of situations. You never feel like you’re out of it with this group.”
If Hightower ever was to feel like his team was out of a game, last night was the night.
Mooresville ace Aubrey Meadows had shut down the Mustangs (26-2) all game. He had a perfect game through three innings and had given up just four hits going into the seventh.Sure, the Blue Devils (21-6) didn’t do much better against East pitcher Justin Roland, but a home run from Matt Markofski gave them a 1-0 lead in the fifth. East then squandered scoring chances in the fifth, when it botched a squeeze play, and the sixth, when it left the bases loaded.The Mustangs also stranded two runners in the fourth.
“We didn’t do the job the three opportunities we had before,” said Hightower, whose team starts a best-of-three state semifinal series Thursday at Belmont South Point. “But we came through in the seventh and did what we needed to do.”
Not until a 1-0 deficit turned into 4-0.
Corbin Shive replaced Roland after a leadoff single in the top of the seventh, and Shive gave up a walk and a home run with his first five pitches. Dylan West’s three-run homer to left field left a couple of Mustangs hanging their heads ó especially after the top of their lineup had batted in the sixth.
Roland, Trey Holmes and Micah Jarrett started the bottom of the inning in the dugout, but they said they had faith in their teammates because there isn’t much of a drop-off at the bottom of the lineup. Noah Holmes bats .333, Ethan Fisher .347, Austin Shull .287 and Ben DeCelle .414.
“It was a little nerve-wracking, but you can’t say enough about them,” said Trey Holmes, who bats second. “They battled, showed character. They were unbelievable tonight.
“Everybody, the sophomores all the way up to the seniors, just showed leadership.”
And patience.
East knew Meadows was tiring in the seventh, so it settled for a hit batsman and a walk to start the inning. Hightower called Ethan Fisher’s 3-2 walk “huge.”
Kent Basinger then gave the Mustangs something even bigger. He pinch hit for Shull and hit a double to right ó just his second hit of the season in his seventh at-bat. A fielding error helped two runs score instead of one, and East trailed 4-2 with no outs.
“Coming in, after Noah got on, (Fisher) got on, I started thinking, ‘All right, I might get a crack at it,’ ” said Roland, East’s leadoff hitter. “I was just wanting a crack at it, get the top of the lineup up.
“Basinger had the biggest hit. After that, I started feeling real good about our chances.”
Meadows’ continuing struggles made the Mustangs feel even better.
A Charlotte signee like Roland, Meadows hit the next batter with a pitch, let Basinger score on a wild pitch and walked Roland before Mooresville coach Jeff Burchett finally replaced him.
“Actually, I am a little shocked they left him in,” Roland said. “But I’m glad they did. He ran out of gas, put some guys on. Some free passes, that helped us out. I knew he ran out of gas, so we could be patient and let him put us on.
“We’ll take it.”
Burchett defended his decision.
“I won’t look back on it,” he said. “He’s got us this far. He’s got us this far. The team wanted him in there.”
After Chris Beaver replaced Meadows with runners on first and third, Trey Holmes singled home Ben DeCelle to tie the game at 4-all. Beaver walked Jarrett intentionally to load the bases, and Roland came racing home on a passed ball.
He slid home, partly to make sure he got there safely and partly to start celebrating the improbable comeback. The Mustangs met and mobbed him at home plate in a matter of seconds.
“This is definitely the best game I’ve ever played in, most fun, with the stakes at risk,” Roland said.
Hightower agreed: “Given the circumstances, the situation we’re in, fourth round of the playoffs, it’s the best win I’ve ever been a part of.”

Contact Nick Bowton at 704-797-4256 or nbowton@salisburypost.com.
 

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