Legion Baseball: Veal leads Rowan past Concord
By Mike London
Even with a 45-minute rain delay following the first inning, Rowan County right-hander Billy Veal wanted to pitch a complete game.
Veal settled for eight innings and eight strikeouts and ended Rowan’s one-game losing streak with an 8-4 victory over Concord.
“We knew as bad as we played (against Mocksville) what we had to do,” Veal said. “We had an off-focus night on Friday with graduations and all, and this game was a little bit of a gut-check for us.”
Rowan (10-4, 5-4) made three outs on the bases, missed signs and struggled to nail things down in the ninth, so it wasn’t exactly perfect. Still, it stayed in the top tier in the Southern Division of Area III, earned a season split with Concord (8-5, 6-3) and did it with three starters ó Zach Smith, Philip Miclat and Noah Holmes ó away at the State Games.
Justin Roland, Trey Holmes and D.C. Cranford knocked in two runs each for Rowan. Roland and Justin Mock led a 14-hit attack with three apiece.
The decisive innings were the Rowan first and the Concord third.
Rain delayed the start of the game 25 minutes, and it pelted down harder as Rowan came to bat in the first. Roland led off with a no-doubt homer to left against Concord right-hander Jeff Council. Council walked three of the next four batters, gave up run-scoring hits to Cranford and Mock and was in a quick 4-0 hole that the visitors never escaped.
“No excuses, but the conditions Jeff was pitching in early in the game were pretty tough,” Concord coach Ron Bost said.
The game was halted by umpires after Council finally labored through the first.
Both starting pitchers returned to the mound after the delay, and Concord threatened to put together a huge inning in the third when Veal suddenly lost the strike zone and issued his only three walks of the night.
“Billy gave us a great effort for about 100 pitches, but that one inning he couldn’t find the plate,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “A lot of pitchers kinda panic in that situation, but he didn’t. He was able to bear down even more. That’s the sign of a good pitcher.”
Michael Tancini followed the three walks with a ringing two-run double to cut Concord’s deficit to 4-2. The tying runs were at second and third, but Veal made big pitches to strike out Cody Walker and Dalton Shuford to end the threat.
“Just did a little damage control and got out of there with the lead,” said Veal, who signed last fall with Lander, a D-II school in Greenwood, S.C.
Veal settled in for good in the fourth inning and dominated through the eighth. He retired 12 of 13 hitters in one stretch. He pitched smart with the lead, challenged hitters early in the count and got 10 outs on groundballs.
Roland, the shortstop, helped him with two special plays ó in the hole to end the second and up the middle to finish the fourth.
“As the game progressed, Veal found it,” said Bost, who serves as Pfeiffer’s pitching coach. “He kept the ball down, threw his breaking ball for strikes, just did a great job.”
Council shut down Rowan in the second, third and fourth, but Micah Jarrett and Trey Holmes hit back-to-back doubles in the fifth for a 5-2 lead, and Cranford’s run-scoring single knocked out Council.Holmes singled off Walker, a lefty, to score Roland in the sixth. Roland’s two-out single in the seventh brought home Mock to complete Rowan’s scoring.
Down 8-2 going to the ninth, Concord broke through against reliever Cody Laws, who pitched better than his line in the boxscore indicates. Bloops dropped in, a bouncer down the third-base line was ruled fair and a foul popup wasn’t caught. With one out, Concord had two runs in, two men on base and its big sticks coming up. But Laws got a key strikeout, and second baseman Ethan Fisher recovered after a bobble to throw out slugger Shane Reedy to end the game.
“Well, we won,” Gantt said with a grimace. “That’s about all I can say.”
It’s better than losing, and the win felt fine to Veal (2-1), who pitched his heart out for a 4-17 North team all spring.
“When I pitched against Concord early in the season (six runs in 21/3 innings), it was my first time on the mound in two weeks and I was rusty,” Veal said. “Tonight, was the first time all summer I felt like I had it.”