Legion Baseball: Rowan 15, Burlington 14
By Mike London
All kidding aside, it will be remembered as the night Rowan County pitcher Russell Michalec relieved himself on the mound.
Michalec pitched the first three innings Saturday, patrolled left field as Billy Veal hurled the fourth and fifth, then returned to the mound to register five more key outs in the sixth and seventh.
Michalec’s second mound appearance earned him an unforgettable win in Rowan’s 15-14 victory over Burlington-Graham that evened a sensational series at three games apiece.
A decisive Game 7 will be played in Graham tonight with the winner earning a bid to the state tournament and a berth opposite Randolph County in the Area III championship series.”This is the first time I’ve ever had to win five times to win a four-out-of-seven series,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said with a weary smile. “But we’ve got a chance.”
Rowan (29-11) has won four games at Newman Park, although it was required by a ruling to win Game 4 twice. Burlington (27-8) has taken all three meetings on its home field. Every game except Rowan’s routine 11-2 breeze in the original Game 4 that was taken off the books has produced thrilling, intense baseball.
“Every game this series, we get up, and then their bats always come alive and start tearing it up,” Rowan center fielder Micah Jarrett said.
Truer words were never spoken. Rowan accumulated 22 hits and still had to hang on for dear life against a Post 63 club that batters the ball continuously.
Burlington’s 7-8-9 hitters ó Anthony Hezar, Seth Caison and Adam Norris ó crushed Rowan pitching one more time.
The trio teamed for six extra-base hits. Caison hit two homers, and Hezar and leadoff man Chris Dameron also went deep.
“Their bottom is just killing us,” Gantt said. “They’re like a college team. Everyone in that lineup is dangerous.”
To survive, Rowan employed six pitchers ó if you count Michalec twice.
Rowan got huge offensive performances from Jarrett (3-for-3, including his seventh homer), Zach Smith (4-for-4) and Noah Holmes (four hits and four RBIs). Holmes, who doubled twice, has knocked in 24 runs in Rowan’s 12 playoff games and 10 in the series.
“Everyone goes through streaks,” Holmes said. “Sometimes the baseball looks like a ping-pong ball at the plate and sometimes it’s a watermelon. Right now, it’s a watermelon.”
Holmes’ RBI double keyed Rowan’s three-run first.
Caison’s two-run homer helped Burlington tie 3-3 in the second, but Rowan took the lead for good on Philip Miclat’s RBI double in the fourth and put up four runs in the third for an 8-3 lead. Veal’s bunt ó Burlington should have taken the out at first, but didn’t get anyone ó keyed the frame.
“Rowan had all those hits, and you can’t take anything away from them, but if we make plays defensively, we get out of there and limit that big inning,” Burlington coach Johnny Slaughter said.
Rowan kept pounding. Michalec’s two-run double keyed a three-run fourth, and the lead swelled to 11-3. But it also was 11-3 Friday when Rowan hung on to win 12-11.
Dameron belted a two-run homer in the fifth. When Hezar and Caison smacked back-to-back bombs in the sixth, it was 11-9, and Gantt signalled for a startled Michalec to return to the mound.Burlington scored runs in each of its last five frames, but Noah Holmes’ RBI single in the eighth gave Rowan a 15-12 lead. Parker Gobbel, Trey Holmes and Justin Roland, who got his second save in two nights, were able to secure the last seven outs,
With Holmes, the standard first baseman, on the mound and his normal backup, Michalec, out of the game, Gantt called on Matt Hall to play first base in the eighth, and wherever Hall goes, excitement follows.
“First time I’ve played first base in a game since seventh grade,” a gleeful Hall said.
Hall does make occasional intrasquad appearances at the position, and it’s a good thing for Rowan. He made a sliding stop of a wicked grounder by Dodson McPherson, outraced McPherson to the bag, then turned a flip as McPherson, who was hustling down the line, crashed into him.
“Got trucked,” Hall said.
“Hall at first base was a sight to see,” Jarrett said with a big smile. “That play he made, first there was laughter when we saw him flying through the air, and then we all wondered if he was OK.”
Hall’s OK. Nothing short of an amputation could stop him from pitching tonight against Burlington ace Zach Robinson.
“We put Matt in the game because when he goes in he fires everybody up,” Gantt said. “If you lose with a guy who gives you everything he has, you can live with it.”
Things got emotional in the ninth. Burlington scored twice after an error, but Roland ended the night with a punchout.
“We’ve kept fighting back all series,” Slaughter said. “There was some emotion, but that’s just because of the competitiveness of these teams.”