Legion playoffs begin
The most wide-open American Legion playoffs in memory begin tonight in the Southern Division of Area III with first-round series that are best-of-five.
iThere are a lot of very good players in Area III this year and most of the teams have got a couple of quality pitchers,î Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. iJust about anything can happen.î
Third-seeded Rowan County is home against No. 6 Mocksville. Fourth-seeded South Rowan is home against No. 5 Concord. No. 7 Kannapolis is at No. 2 Mooresville, and No. 1 Lexington is home against No. 8 Stanly County.
Lexington won the regular-season race. Mooresville was the best team all summer until the last week. Rowan County dug an early hole when it didnít have the East Rowan varsity players, but it probably has the best 1-through-9 lineup. South Rowan appears to have the deepest, best-rested pitching staff.
Everyone agrees itís a year of parity. The teams that finished fifth through eighth all have a legitimate chance to prevail in the first round. There may be surprises , but there wonít be any shockers, no matter what happens.
As one head coach said recently, iNo oneís afraid of anyone else this year.î
Gantt is certain all-star Tanner Brown (5-1), who has been the surprise of the summer, will be his Game 1 starter. After that, heíll play it by ear.
Candidates to start Game 2 include Matt Hall, who has been good in every role, Billy Veal and Zack Simpson.
Shortstop Justin Roland emerged as an effective closer late in the season, but this isnít a typical Rowan pitching staff. Every pitcher has given up more hits than innings pitched and most of the ERAs are in the 4s, 5s or higher.
The pluses for Rowan are good defense, especially up the middle, and a lineup that churns out plenty of runs.
Third baseman Noah Holmes (.418) and first baseman Trey Holmes (.381) have raked all season. Five hitters ó Trey Holmes, Veal, Philip Miclat, D.C. Cranford and Zach Smith ó have 20 or more RBIs.
Standouts for Mocksville include pitcher Zack Russell-Myers, catcher Chris Kinard and slugger Seth Miller.
Rowan (20-8) split with Mocksville (14-12), winning 15-10 at Rich Park and losing 11-7 at Newman Park.
South (15-10) split two tight games with Concord, winning 11-9 at home and losing 7-6 in 10 innings at Central Cabarrus High.
Southís regular-season record was good, considering coach David Wright did everything he could to rest arms and prepare for a playoff push.
Randy Shepherd is the only South starter that threw as many as 30 innings. Weston Church (0.95 ERA) threw 19, and Ryan Bostian (1.91 ERA) threw 28. Walker Snow, who has nailed down five saves, fanned 34 in 25 frames.
Lefties Cameron Park and Zach Wright combined for five wins.
iWeíve tried to prepare for the playoffs as best we can, we finished strong (with wins over Mooresville and Rowan), and we hope it carries over,î Wright said. iBut weíve got a tough first-round series. We eliminated Concord last year, thatís motivation for them, and theyíll be ready for us.î
Concord standouts include pitcher Garrett Furr and shortstop Michael Tancini.