Legion Baseball: Rowan 10, Burlington 7
By Mike London
GRAHAM ó Mother Nature is the one thing that can’t be overruled by an American Legion commissioner, and Rowan County players successfully ended their dramatic Area III semifinal series with Burlington-Graham standing quietly in the shelter of the visitors dugout.
Rowan was declared an 8-5 winner in Game 7 when a storm pummeled Tom Zachary Field in the bottom of the seventh inning. It was an official game at that point, with the score reverting back to how things stood after the sixth, the last completed frame.
Weary Rowan earned the right to start the Area III championship series tonight at Randolph County’s McCrary Park. The teams will play a best-of-five series for a trophy and a seed, but both are already in the state tournament.
Sunday’s heroes for Rowan included pitcher Matt “Bulldog” Hall, who worked six innings, and Philip Miclat, who hit his third home run.
The game started 45 minutes late as a soggy, muddy field was brought up to playing shape, and a savage downpour that tore umbrellas from the hands of fleeing fans turned the diamond into Lake Michigan just minutes after it struck. The duration of the storm was brief, but bolts of lightning, rumbling thunder and prodigious puddles convinced umpires there was no sane reason to wait around, and the decision to declare Rowan a 4-3 winner in the wild series was made without hesitation.
“Be humble, be humble!” team manager Bob Lowman reminded Rowan players as they exited the dugout to shake hands with their numb Burlington counterparts on the third-base line. Outwardly, both teams lived up to the sportsmanship code’s guidelines as far as keeping stout hearts in defeat and pride under in victory, but inside, Rowan players and coaches had to be feeling jubilation and vindication.
Rowan had to win Game 4 twice after a state ruling, so it beat one of the best-hitting teams around five times in nine days.
Could Rowan have gotten those last outs and maintained its lead last night if the storm hadn’t intervened?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Rowan coach Jim Gantt seemed pretty confident , even after Hall was knocked out shortly before the rain hit.
Gantt had turned to Tanner Brown, the team’s most effective pitcher most of the summer. Brown got two quick outs. Then a routine flyball was dropped in driving rain before the field was cleared by the umpiring crew.
“It looked like Tanner had his fastball,” Gantt said. “And (closer) Justin (Roland) had told me he could go an inning. I really liked our chances to get those outs we needed.”
We’ll never know, but Rowan had somehow held off Burlington charges on Friday and Saturday.
“I guess the rain kind of cut us a break,” Miclat said. “But it’s still pretty crazy to think we had one game taken away, that we were down in the series 3-1 and were still able to come back and beat them.”
Burlington outhomered Rowan 16-7 in the series and launched three more in the finale that counted. A fourth one, a seventh-inning blast by Dodson McPherson, was wiped out by the rain.
Hall survived six innings because his teammates gave him an 8-1 cushion after three frames against Burlington stud Zach Robinson and because Burlington’s first three homers were solos.
“Not every pitcher can handle giving up homers like that, but Matt’s competitive,” Gantt said. “Every time they hit one, he had a short memory. He just kept throwing strikes.”
Hall was the pitcher who had a nine-inning gem disallowed when the original Game 4 was erased. He declared he had “unfinished business,” and he did what he had to do.
“Ah, I just kept fighting,” he said. “That’s all you can do against a team that hits like that one does. When the rain hit and it was all over, I said, ‘Thank the Lord.’ ”
Micah Jarrett, who lost his glove over the center-field fence chasing a McPherson homer, knocked in the first run in Rowan’s four-run first, and Noah Holmes and Zach Smith drew bases-loaded walks.
Miclat homered in the second to make it 5-1. In the third, D.C. Cranford doubled and scored on a hit by Austin Shull, and Trey Holmes had a two-run single to make it 8-1.
Leading 8-5, Rowan added two in the seventh when Roland was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and Miclat produced a sac fly.