Legion Baseball: Burlington 2, Rowan 1
By Bret Strelow
GRAHAM ó Home runs determined the outcome in yet another win by the home team.
Burlington-Graham and Rowan County combined for three solo homers Thursday night, and Colt Johnson’s tiebreaking shot in the sixth inning propelled Burlington to a 2-1 victory at Tom Zachary Field.
The visiting side hasn’t claimed a win through five contests of this best-of-seven, Area III semifinal series. Rowan trails 3-2 heading into tonight’s Game 6 at Newman Park.
“Tomorrow’s our turn, I guess, but they aren’t going to give it to us,” Rowan shortstop Justin Roland said. “We have to come out and play hard because they’ll be fired up to end the series.”
Roland produced the only run for Rowan, which got a complete-game effort from starting pitcher Tanner Brown. Burlington starter Cale Rogers threw a five-hitter and struck out seven.
Anthony Hezar hit an opposite-field homer off Brown in the second inning, and Roland pulled a ball over the left-field fence to even the score in the fifth.
Johnson stepped into the box to open the bottom half of the sixth, and he swung at Brown’s first pitch. A line drive cleared the wall in center field.
“When two good pitchers pitch like they’re capable, like they did tonight, somebody’s gotta make a mistake or give up a home run, which is what happened,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “It really wasn’t that bad of a pitch. The guy just did a good job of hitting it.”
Brown, who allowed eight hits, tossed a first-pitch strike to 23 of 36 batters.
Burlington (27-7) left two runners in scoring position in the first inning, and Brown stranded three runners in the fourth.
“I was wanting to go as many innings as I could,” Brown said. “I tried to hit my spots and let the defense do their thing. They were hitting me pretty good at first, but then I settled down and started hitting my spots. It started moving along pretty good.”
The teams went a combined 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position, and Rowan (28-11) posted an 0-for-8 mark.
It failed to capitalize on a pair of early chances against Rogers.
Second-inning singles by Micah Jarrett and Noah Holmes put runners at the corners with nobody out. Rogers induced a pop-up to shallow right field, and left-handed hitting Billy Veal attempted what Gantt called a “modified safety squeeze” with one away.
A bunt down the first-base line would have sent Jarrett sprinting toward home, but the ball rolled sharply toward third. Jarrett was still at third with two out, and a flyball to center ended the threat.
Rowan’s Austin Shull led off the third inning with a walk and advanced to third on Philip Miclat’s one-out double. Gantt held Shull at third on Trey Holmes’ pop-up to shallow center, and Jarrett grounded out.
“Tanner pitched a great game and really pitched well enough to win,” Gantt said. “If we could have executed a little bit offensively, he probably would have.”
Miclat followed Roland’s fifth-inning homer with a single, but Rogers didn’t allow another hit. He retired 11 of Rowan’s last 12 batters.
The only blemish was a one-out walk to Roland in the seventh, and Rogers picked him off.
“It seemed like he started getting in a rhythm,” Roland said, “and once a pitcher gets in a rhythm, it’s hard to knock him out of it.”
Strong pitching has finally started to prevail in the high-scoring series.
The teams pushed across a combined 59 runs in the first three games, and Rowan scored 11 times Wednesday. Matt Hall went the distance and held Burlington to two runs.
Brown and Rogers staged a pitchers’ duel in Graham two days after Burlington handed Rowan a 16-14 loss at Tom Zachary Field.
“This was a good, old-fashioned, low-scoring baseball game,” Burlington coach Johnny Slaughter said. “When you’re around the plate like those two were, you’ll have that kind of game.”
NOTE: Gantt said Zack Simpson will start Game 6 for Rowan, and Slaughter said he will send Jason Groce to the mound.