3A Title Series: Rocky Mount 8, East Rowan 6

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 31, 2008

By Nick Bowton
Salisbury Post
ZEBULON ó Justin Roland made it halfway down the third-base line and hesitated, unsure whether to continue home or retreat.
A run, a rally and East Rowan’s season were at stake, and Roland risked all of them by trying to evade Rocky Mount catcher Ben Fish with two outs.
Roland arched his back, dipped toward the infield around Fish, dived for home plate and touched the far corner for what appeared to be another run in a sixth-inning rally.
Nope. The home-plate umpire ruled that Roland used more than the 3 feet of allotted space along the baseline, and instead of a run the Mustangs saw the inning end with Rocky Mount still leading. East couldn’t mount another rally in the seventh, and its season ended with an 8-6 loss in the 3A state championship game. East had won 6-2 earlier Saturday to force a decisive third game.
“He called him out of the baseline, but if you make a slide where you can reach the plate, I don’t see how you can be out of the baseline,” said East coach Brian Hightower, who vehemently pleaded his case with the umpire. “He said he came back in the baseline, which he couldn’t have because the play was at the plate. It was a great slide. And I marked it off ó it was one step. That’s 1 yard; 1 yard equals 3 feet. I teach math.
“But bottom line is umpires never cost you the game.”
So what did cost the Mustangs last night?
Shaky pitching, for one. Starter Cody Laws lasted just an inning and lost his first game of the season. Reliever Kent Basinger then lasted 21/3 innings before giving way to Trey Holmes with a runner on third and East trailing 6-3.
After never trailing in the afternoon game, the Mustangs (29-5) never led Saturday night.
Laws gave up two singles and two walks in the first inning, and East trailed 2-1 going into the second. One of Laws’ first two walks was intentional, as the Mustangs tried to avoid standout center fielder Brian Goodwin, who has committed to North Carolina.
Goodwin finished 1-for-2 with a triple but scored three runs thanks in large part to Chris Berry batting behind him. Berry, the losing pitcher in Game 2 of the series, went 3-for-4 with two runs and four RBIs.
“You gotta pick the lesser of the two evils, and we thought (Berry) was the lesser of two evils,” Hightower said. “He proved us wrong. Goodwin’s a player you’re not gonna see very often. We got into the game, ‘That guy’s not gonna beat us.’
“But you gotta tip your hat to Berry.”
After an RBI single in the first inning, Berry produced a two-run double in the second. He scored on Fish’s double off the center-field wall, and the Gryphons (27-6) led 6-1 going into the third inning.
East got a pair of sacrifice flies from Zach Smith and Micah Jarrett in the bottom of the third, but it couldn’t mount a big rally against starting pitcher Benton Moss.
“We could have been a little more patient because he’s a little wild,” Roland said of Moss, who threw three wild pitches. “We were trying to come out and make something happen by swinging, but it just wasn’t happening.”
Not until Moss walked Corbin Shive to lead off the sixth inning and then gave way to reliever Nick Hahula. Rocky Mount coach Pat Smith figured an East Rowan rally was coming at some point, and it happened in the sixth.
“I never felt comfortable this whole night,” Smith said. “Not with the bats they got. We had that much respect for somebody that’s won 29 baseball games.
“It was just Rocky Mount’s year for some reason or another. For some reason or another, it was meant for us this year.”
Smith didn’t have to look any farther than the controversial play at the plate to reinforce his feeling that this was his team’s year.
Noah Holmes and Austin Shull both doubled off Hahula in the sixth, and Ben DeCelle walked to load the bases with one out and East trailing 8-4. A fifth run scored when third baseman Collins Cuthrell fielded an infield hit by Roland and didn’t decide in time where to throw. East got within 8-6 when a run scored on a fielder’s choice, and the bases were still loaded with two outs.
East’s all-time leader in stolen bases, Roland started for home when a pitch in the dirt got away from Fish. He paused, continued and somehow avoided the tag. Had the run counted, East would have trailed 8-7 with runners still on second and third and cleanup batter Trey Holmes at the plate.
“We got the break on a call,” Smith said. “What more can I say? It went our way. Very fortunate there.”
Added Hightower: “That was a great play. I’ll live with it every day. (Roland) is an awesome player. He can’t hang his head about nothing. He should have been rewarded for a great slide.”
Instead, East’s reward was one more inning and one more chance to rally. The Mustangs went down in order, the game ending when Goodwin caught a flyball by Noah Holmes on the warning track in center field.
“My heart dropped,” Holmes said. “It’s a great team. I wish we could have pulled it out.”
Contact Nick Bowton at 704-797-4256 or nbowton@salisburypost.com.