American Legion Area III Finals: Rowan rests big guns in Game 1 loss
By Bret Strelow
ASHEBORO ó Rowan County coach Jim Gantt mentioned a last-minute road trip as he spoke to Randolph County coach Ronnie Pugh in Graham on Sunday.A series-ending victory in the seventh official game against Burlington-Graham clinched Rowan’s spot opposite Randolph in the Area III finals, and Gantt’s squad showed up at McCrary Park on Monday.
The team bus stopped 175 miles short of a previously discussed destination.
Randolph needed only seven innings to wrap up a 12-2 win in Game 1. Rowan rested most of its starters one night after closing out a controversial and hotly contested series that granted one side a berth in the upcoming state tournament.
Randolph was in a similar position last year, when it eliminated South Rowan in seven exhausting games and forfeited Game 1 of the Area III championship series against Rowan. Gantt didn’t seriously consider that approach.
“We joked about going to the beach, but to forfeit was not an option, in my opinion,” Gantt said. “If it’s on the schedule and that’s what you’re supposed to do, you play it. Somehow you find a way. It may absolutely kill us the rest of the series, I don’t know, but it’s still just playing baseball.”
Gantt wasn’t criticizing Randolph’s previous strategy. He said he thinks the teenagers on his team ó most of whom don’t work during the day ó should be able to muster up enough energy to play every night.
He still gave most of his starters a welcomed evening off. Philip Miclat and Zach Smith remained in the lineup, but at different spots. Miclat slid from second base to shortstop, and Smith shifted from right field to center field. D.C. Cranford (right field), Matt Hall (designated hitter), Justin Mock (third base), Russell Michalec (left field), Matt Miller (catcher), Ethan Fisher (second base), Zack Simpson (first base) and Parker Gobbel (pitcher) were the other starters.
Simpson was 0-for-1 as a hitter this season leading up to Monday’s game, and Gobbel started on the mound for only the fourth time. Gantt’s team trailed 9-0 after three innings, and Randolph (33-9) scored six unearned runs in the game thanks to five errors by Rowan (30-12).
“I saw our team from last year in his squad tonight,” Pugh said. “(Last year) we came off a grueling seven games in seven days, and they were all emotional. They had a heck of a series ó heck, they played eight days ó so I know they were tired. We know the rest of the series is not going to be quite like tonight.”
Two first-inning errors helped Randolph claim a 4-0 lead, and Ethan Marsh homered to begin a five-run third.
Gobbel pitched four innings and allowed 10 runs, but only five were earned. Fisher took over early in the fifth inning, and Rowan fans cheered wildly as Hall jogged out to play second base. He was tested immediately.
Hall charged a grounder and made an accurate, off-balance throw to first base for the out.
“I played second here last year,” Hall said. “It was about the same, normal. The ball always finds the new guy. Always.”
Randolph starter Austin Moyer, who won the regular-season matchup against Rowan at McCrary Park, retired the first 10 hitters. He struck out 11 batters and allowed two runs in six innings.
Four of the five hits off Moyer were doubles, including two by Cranford. Fisher, who made a diving stop and one-hopped a throw toward Simpson to retire the first Randolph hitter, sent Michalec home with a double. Mock added an RBI single.
“We were just trying to give the rest of our team an opportunity,” Gantt said. “We ask them to go in games late with 2,000 people yelling at them in a pressure situation. We ask them to pinch-hit, to go up there and drive in a run when we need it.
“We wanted to give them a chance to start the game and maybe get in the flow of the game, give them a little more of an opportunity. With 18 players, everybody is a big part of our team.”