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Legion Baseball: Rowan 9, Kannapolis 4

By David Shaw
dshaw@salisburypost.com.
KANNAPOLIS ó Even Mother Nature couldn’t thwart Rowan County’s late-season march on Friday.
Rowan withstood a 25-minute rain delay in the eighth inning and erased a 4-run deficit to beat host Kannapolis, 9-4, for its third straight Southern Division victory.
“We were kind of worried about the lightning and the rain delay,” coach Jim Gantt said after Rowan (18-6, 10-5) tightened its grip on third place. “But it turned out to be a good thing. It cooled everyone off a little bit.”
The game pitted a couple of rising high school juniors starting on the mound ó Zach Simpson for Rowan and John-Jay Tuttle for Kannapolis (9-11, 7-9). Simpson, a West Rowan lefty who was released by Mocksville and promoted from the RC junior legion team, made his first start and was solid through four scoreless innings.
By the fifth he looked downright ordinary. Kannapolis knocked him out with four runs on five hits sandwiched around Wes Honeycutt’s perfectly placed squeeze, Michael Boger’s sacrifice bunt and Jacob Wright’s sac fly.
“I thought Zach did a good job,” said K-town coach Matt Stack. “But in the fifth he started losing his control and we put a rally together. When he’s ahead in the count, he’s not easy to hit against.”
Down 4-0 Gantt summoned tough-as-nails right-hander Matt Hall, who tossed 21/3 innings of scoreless relief and earned his third win in four decisions. Hall smoothed the edges until Rowan’s bats ignited over the last four innings.
“They’re starting pitcher (Tuttle) kept us off-balance,” said RC shortstop Justin Roalnd. “He was effective with his fastball and his curve.”
By the third time through the lineup, Rowan’s hitters were starting to solve Tuttle, an A.L. Brown standout last spring. They reached him for two runs in the top of the sixth, one on a wicked double to left-center by Noah Holmes and another on a throwing error.
“Tuttle was getting tired,” Gantt said. “His pitch count was up. And our guys started talking about how he’d start you off with the same pitch. It meant we could start looking for certain pitches.”
Tuttle’s best pitches were knuckleballs in the dirt that he only threw with a favorable count. “Other than that, I hit corners with my fastball and breaking pitches,” he said.
RC tied the score and chased Tuttle in the seventh. Trey Holmes legged out an infield hit to produce one run. Two batters later Russ Michalec grounded an RBI single into left field.
The biggest hits were still to come. In the top of the eighth against reliever Matt Mariano, Rowan’s Zack Smith singled to left, stole second and scored the go-ahead run on Austin Shull’s double to left-center. Moments later Philip Miclat served a two-run double down the right field line. Smith closed the scoring in the ninth with a towering, two-run homer to right.
The rains came in the Kannapolis eighth, with Roland on in relief of Hall. They had some effect on the grip-it-and-rip-it right-hander, who yielded four singles and a walk but struck out six batters in two innings.
“I came in ready to pitch,” Roland said. “I guess I’m becoming a strikeout pitcher. I was pretty much going after everybody except the one guy (Hunter Pate in the ninth). In that spot I was hoping for a double play.”
Turns out it didn’t matter.
“Roland’s about as good as it gets in that situation,” said Stack. “And Rowan County is still Rowan County. When you don’t put them away, that’s what you get.”

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