Legion Baseball: Rowan edges Lexington
By Nick Bowton
Billy Veal watched the ball slowly drop toward shallow center field as he jogged toward first base. Justin Roland, running home from third, looked back to his left and watched the same thing.An out meant an 11th inning, but Veal’s 10th-inning hit fell inches past the glove of a sprinting, reaching Zack Briggs to give Rowan County a 6-5 victory Tuesday against league-leading Lexington.
Post 8 entered the game a half-game ahead of Mooresville but fell into a tie for first. Rowan, meanwhile, took a big step toward building momentum heading into the American Legion playoffs.
It still stands alone in third place in the Southern Division of Area III and would have third to itself with a victory Thursday at South Rowan.
“It’s only as big as our next game,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “You go down to South and play poorly, it’s not really gonna matter. But it’s a shot in the arm for us.
“It lets us know what we can do when we play like we’re capable. Lexington’s a good team, had a good pitcher on the mound, had our number for a while. They persevered, stayed in there, did what they needed to. I was proud of their fight and, really, their guts.”
Rowan showed those qualities with flawless defense, sound pitching and just enough offense.
Most of the offense came in the sixth inning, when both starting pitchers faltered after five quick frames.
Lexington (17-7, 13-3) took a 1-0 lead into the inning thanks to an Alex Grubb home run in the fifth, and Rowan starter Tanner Brown left after giving up three consecutive hits and hitting a fourth batter with a pitch to open the sixth. Rowan (19-7, 11-5) trailed 4-0 going into the bottom of the inning.
The hosts had gotten just two hits through the first five innings against Lexington ace Clay Watson, but they reeled off five straight hits to even the score in the sixth. Austin Shull singled and Roland doubled to open the inning, and both players scored on Philip Miclat’s single off the mound.
Trey Holmes also singled off the mound to score Miclat, and Holmes tied the score on younger brother Noah’s double to the left-field corner.
Watson turned untouchable again through the seventh, eighth and ninth, but Rowan already had enough runs to force extra innings.
“We hit some balls hard earlier in the game; they just went to people,” Gantt said. “We finally found some holes ó that was the difference. He still made quality pitches. We just found some holes with them.”
After that big offensive inning, Rowan relied on defense and relief pitching to get to extra innings.
Matt Hall replaced Brown in the sixth and struck out four batters in four innings. He gave up a go-ahead run in the top of the 10th but kept a good-hitting Lexington team at bay for the most part.
“Outstanding,” Gantt said. “Without Hall, we don’t win that game.”
A defensive play by Veal helped, too.
Jordan Hudson hit a one-out single to left in the seventh and tried to get to second base with the go-ahead run. Veal quickly got to the ball on the left-field line and fired a throw to Miclat to easily get Hudson.
“He had hit the ball my way twice, and last time we played them he hit the ball that way quite a bit,” Veal said. “So I was shading that way, and luckily I got there and got a good hop, perfect throw.
“Not a perfect throw, but good enough to get him at second.”
The way the rest of the inning played out, Hudson would have scored had he stayed at first. Still, Lexington coach Matt Griffin didn’t fault him for the attempt.
“Like I told Hudson after he did that, I don’t mind that,” Griffin said. “With one out, he’s trying to stretch a single into a double and get into scoring position, I don’t mind that at all.
“It was him forcing Rowan to make a play, and they made a play.”
Veal’s play highlighted a night when Rowan had three double plays and no errors. That solid defense kept the hosts close enough until Watson had to be replaced because of a pitch count in the 10th.
Miclat’s sacrifice bunt got runners on second and third with one out, Noah Holmes forced a run home with a bases-loaded walk against reliever Luke Wilhelm, and Veal sent Roland home with the winning run.
“I was just hoping I got Roland in there,” Veal said. “Briggs made a great effort; he’s a heck of a ballplayer. We just came out tonight and battled back.”