Legion playoffs: Rowan 5, Mocksville 2
By Mike London
The brooms were soggy after an hour rain delay, but Rowan County finished off a first-round sweep of Mocksville with a 5-2 victory at Newman Park on Wednesday.
Third-seeded Rowan (23-8) beat sixth-seeded Mocksville (14-15) for the 12th straight time in a playoff series, but it was never routine. All three games unexpectedly featured more pitching than hitting.
Rowan won 6-3 Monday and took a rare 1-0 verdict on Tuesday.
“It was interesting,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “We thought this might be a slow-pitch softball series with aluminum bats and two small ballparks, but it turned out to be three very good baseball games.”
Rowan second baseman Philip Miclat finished off a phenomenal series with a 3-for-4 effort in the finale. He was 8-for-10 in the series.
The other hero for Rowan was pitching coach Zach Snyder’s whole crew. No one anticipated holding Mocksville to five runs in three games, but Rowan did it with a committee of nine arms.
“Mocksville has a good-hitting bunch, but great pitching will always beat good hitting,” said Billy Veal, who closed Game 3 by striking out the side in the ninth. Our hitting slacked off some in this series, but pitchers came through.”
Mocksville’s Brian King relieved for the third straight night on Wednesday and gave his team a chance by holding Rowan to one run in six innings.
Rowan got up 4-0 in a hurry against Mocksville starter Jake Koontz. Noah Holmes’ RBI groundout scored Miclat in the first. Another hit by Miclat and doubles by Austin Shull, Trey Holmes and Micah Jarrett made it 4-0 in the second.
Rowan starter Russell Michalec (3-2) held the lead with the help of two double plays. Mocksville’s three lefty hitters were 0-for-8 against the southpaw, who showed an effective curveball and changeup. Michalec got 14 outs on groundballs before exiting with one out in the seventh.
Corey Norman led off the sixth with a homer and Zack Russell-Myers homered to open the seventh for Mocksville’s two runs.
Rowan added a run in the seventh for a 5-2 lead when Micah Jarrett walked with two out, stole second and scored when Noah Holmes delivered a clutch single after a long battle with King.
For the third straight night, Mocksville hit balls hard ó three straight hot grounders went right at Rowan fielders in the second inning ó but it couldn’t deliver with men on base.
In both the eighth and ninth, Mocksville put two men on with no outs and brought the tying run to the plate, but the visitors failed to score.
“You have to get at least one run in those situations and to not score at all is unacceptable,” Mocksville coach Mike Lovelace said. “Our pitchers held down a great-hitting team the whole series, but we just didn’t swing the bats.”
Rowan reliever Parker Gobbel got Chris Kinard to pop up an off-speed pitch for the first huge out in the eighth, and first baseman Trey Holmes started a 1-6-3 double play on a grounder wide of first to end the inning.
Mocksville came very close to breaking through in the ninth when Ryan Carter banged a grounder down the third-base line that would have been a run-scoring double, but the ball was ruled foul. Mocksville fans weren’t thrilled with the call.
“That scared me for a second there,” Veal said. “But then I heard him call it.”
After taking a deep breath, Veal struck out Carter and pinch-hitter Clint Howell to end the game and the series.
“In a situation like that a pitcher can look at it as pressure or opportunity,” Gantt said. “Billy looked at it as opportunity and made great pitches.”