Legion Baseball: Rowan 11, West Forsyth 10
By Nick Bowton
Russell Michalec told Rowan County assistant coach Steven Sawyer on Monday that he loves it when the home crowd erupts.
In Rowan’s home opener, Michalec gave the fans at Newman Park a reason to do so.
A sloppy, back-and-forth game ended when Michalec scored the game-winning run in the eighth inning of a seven-inning, non-league game against West Forsyth. Michalec singled home the tying run before scoring to give Rowan an 11-10 victory. He also pitched the final 11/3 innings.
“I told him I wanted to bunt, see what I could do,” Michalec said of Sawyer, who filled in for suspended coach Jim Gantt. “He told me to go out there and be a hero. He had the confidence in me to put me on the mound, so I’m glad I could pay him back for it.”
While paying back Sawyer, Michalec also helped pay tribute to Theo Heilig, a long-time Rowan athletic director who passed away earlier this month.
Rowan honored Heilig with a moment of silence and a tribute before the game, and the team responded with a home-opening victory. Four-year Legion player D.C. Cranford said the outcome was fitting.
“We kind of discussed it,” said Cranford, who was 2-for-4 with two RBIs. “Theo used to make everyone laugh. He didn’t even mean to. He was just a fun guy to be around. I’ve been here four years now, and we were expecting him to be out there.
“Then the next thing you know he’s gone.”
Rowan might not have played a flawless game to honor Heilig, but it did manage to atone for every mistake.
The first West Forsyth batter in the first inning reached base on an error, and that led to an unearned run and a 1-0 lead. Post 522 padded two more runs in the second and another in the third ó it scored at least one run in every inning ó for a 4-0 lead going into the bottom of the third.
West Forsyth’s second- and third-inning runs were earned, but Rowan gave its opponent six more unearned runs over the final five innings. Rowan finished with seven errors, and two runs scored on passed balls.
“For a young group, these guys are so resilient,” Sawyer said. “We gave them an extra 10, 11 outs tonight. But they never doubted it in the dugout.
“And we didn’t give up a big innings despite all the errors.”
Because it didn’t give up a big inning, Rowan (2-1) was able to keep West Forsyth (3-2) from putting the game out of reach.
After West Forsyth led 4-0, Michalec hit a sacrifice fly and Cranford doubled home a run to get within 4-2. When West Forsyth pulled ahead 5-2, Chris Jacobs doubled home a run and Philip Miclat singled in two more to tie the game.
Rowan finally rallied for a 9-7 lead in the sixth, but a passed ball on a two-out strikeout led to two West Forsyth runs and a tie game after seven innings.
Rowan trailed 10-9 going into the bottom of the eighth but gained new life when umpires ruled that D.J. Little dropped Miclat’s fly ball to center field. West Forsyth coach Kevin McIntosh was ejected after a lengthy argument, and Michalec singled the next pitch to score Miclat.
Three batters later, Thomas Hester singled home Michalec with the winning run.
“I think that took it out of them,” Michalec said of the ejection. “When your coach gets thrown out, it either excites you or kills you.
“I guess it killed them.”
Contact Nick Bowton at 704-797-4256 or email@example.com.