Prep Baseball Playoffs: East Rowan 3, South Point 2
By Bret Strelow
BELMONT ó East Rowan shortstop Micah Jarrett fielded the grounder and raced an approaching South Point player to second base.
Jarrett stepped on the bag, took a hard right turn and continued sprinting.
He arrived quickly at the mound, where his teammates had started to celebrate a 3-2 victory that pushed East into the 3A state championship series.
The Mustangs, seeking their first state title since 1995, captured the Western crown Saturday night by prevailing in the decisive game of their series with South Point. East (28-3) will face Rocky Mount (25-5) in another best-of-three matchup that is currently scheduled to begin Friday in either Raleigh or Zebulon.
East trailed 4-0 in its fourth-round game against Mooresville on Tuesday before scoring five runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, and South Point ace Zach Horne pitched an eight-inning no-hitter against the Mustangs two days later.
They bounced back to win Game 2, and Justin Roland’s clutch pitching enabled them to survive another dramatic finish.
“This definitely hasn’t been an easy road, but it’s been the ride of a lifetime,” Roland said. “The way we came back against Mooresville, that was something magical that night. You know something was destined to happen.
“This was a great moment. The pressure’s right there, and I wasn’t going to let it get to me.”
South Point (20-10) scored once against Roland in the first inning, but run-scoring hits from Trey Holmes and Corbin Shive gave East the lead in the fourth. Jarrett capped an eight-pitch, sixth-inning at-bat with a sacrifice fly.
Roland (5-0) retired the first batter he faced in the seventh, and consecutive infield errors sparked a Red Raider rally. Roland picked up his 11th strikeout when he fanned Horne, and cleanup hitter Chris Lane delivered an RBI single to left field.
Runners were on first and second when Weston Lawing hit a sharp groundball to short, and Jarrett darted to his left as second baseman Ethan Fisher awaited a throw for the forceout.
“There was no way I was letting go of that,” Jarrett said. “I was holding onto the ball as hard as I could and running to second base as fast as I could.
“I’m on a cloud right now. I’m on cloud nine.”
East erupted for 17 runs in a five-inning, series-evening victory Friday, but it had another slow start in Belmont.
Roland allowed three of South Point’s seven hits, including an RBI double, in the first inning.
The Mustangs were aware they’d likely have to face Horne again on his home turf, and Lawing (8-2) held East hitless for 32/3 innings.
East strung together a trio of two-out hits in the fourth against Lawing, who didn’t give up a run in either of his first two playoff starts. Jarrett singled, stole second and scored on Holmes’ long single to left. The area in front of the left-field fence features a steep incline, and Dariel Rogers was unable to catch the ball as he stumbled on the hill. Shive then smacked a tiebreaking double into a gap.
“We just kept thinking we’d get to (Lawing) eventually,” East coach Brian Hightower said. “We really had to because we knew Horne had some innings left. We wanted to try to get up so that when he did come in it’d be a situation where they’d have to come back.”
East added an important insurance run in the sixth. Horne took over after Lawing threw two balls to Roland, who drew a walk.
He advanced to second on a wild pitch, stole third and scored on Jarrett’s shallow pop-up to right.
“What I love about (Roland) is he’s always competing,” Hightower said. “Any time you’ve got a 5-6 man like him, I’ll take it any day of the week.”
Roland came up just as big on the mound.
A runner occupied second base in the third inning when Lane hit a two-out chopper down the third-base line. The umpires ruled the ball foul, and he struck out. Roland stranded two runners when he fanned Lane to end the fifth.
Roland remained poised in the turbulent seventh. Fisher couldn’t corral a looping liner to his left, and third baseman Noah Holmes followed a diving stop with a throw that pulled Fisher off second base. East managed to record two more outs before South Point could post two runs.
“Coming in, I knew it’d be a ton of pressure playing here,” Roland said. “It got a little loud in the seventh, but I just had to buckle down.”
Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or firstname.lastname@example.org.