Rowan defense the difference

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 30, 2008

By Mike London
Wicked line drives are generally bad news, but Rowan County defenders turned eight of them into outs in a 7-3 victory over Randolph County at Newman Park on Tuesday.
“We made a lot of running catches,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “That was the difference.”
Rowan (31-12) evened the Area III championship series at a game apiece behind another efficient pitching effort by right-hander Tanner Brown.
Game 3 in the best-of-five series is tonight at 7 p.m. at McCrary Park in Asheboro.
Randolph’s final lineout was a backbreaker. With the bases loaded and one out in the ninth, Cameron Cockman sent a rope toward right-center that Rowan second baseman Philip Miclat plucked out of the air with an acrobatic leap and turned into a game-ending double play.
Miclat made three errant throws in Rowan’s 12-2 Game 1 loss, but he made up for it.
“I don’t know what happened to me Monday but my arm just wasn’t cooperating,” Miclat said. “That last ball I was sure it was hit over my head, but then it kind of died and I jumped and got it. The runner was moving, so the double play was easy.”
Randolph (33-10) scored twice in the third, but Rowan belted four doubles and scored six runs in the bottom half of the inning.
Austin Shull and Justin Roland got things rolling with back-to-back doubles. Miclat singled home Roland, and Micah Jarrett’s double scored Miclat.
Noah Holmes, Zach Smith and D.C. Cranford reached base before Billy Veal’s RBI double capped the big inning.
When Brown went back to the mound for the fourth and put a quick zero on the scoreboard, Rowan had control of the game.
A 2007 North Rowan graduate Brown (7-2) worked 71/3 innings and allowed only one walk. For the season, he’s fanned 57 while walking 13 in 73 innings.
“Sometimes it takes a long time to be an overnight success,” Gantt said. “Tanner’s just kept working and working, and he’s always looking for things to do to help the team, whether it’s watering the mound or whatever. People like him, things tend to work out for them.”
Brown’s fastball has improved with maturity, and a hitch in his delivery helps it get on hitters quicker than they’re expecting. He kept throwing strikes and his defense kept making plays.
“Randolph is a good-hitting ball team,” Brown said. “I had all three pitches working and I kept the ball down, but they still were hitting balls hard.”
Randolph’s sixth could have been scary ó double, lineout, single, vicious sacrifice fly ó but Brown escaped with only one run because D.C. Cranford made a diving catch in left and a leaping catch at the wall.
Cranford, a 2007 East Rowan graduate, works for the Towan of Granite Quarry and spends a lot of time operating a weed-eater. Fortunately, his boss is a Legion fan who allows Cranford to fit baseball into his schedule.
“I got lucky on those catches,” Cranford said. “I lost that first ball in the sky, but I still was able to dive for it. I was sure the other one was over my head, but I took a stab.”
Rowan right fielder Zach Smith produced a fine running catch in the seventh, and relief pitcher Trey Holmes got a key out in the eighth when he soared high off the mound to snag a bouncer that was laced up the middle.
“That’s what you get when you play Rowan County,” Randolph coach Ronnie Pugh said. “Every time we had opportunities, they were rock-solid defensively.”
Rowan improved to 17-4 at Newman Park and has won its last eight games in front of supportive crowds.
Rowan’s Russell Michalec and Randolph’s Tyler McSwain are the most likely starting pitchers tonight.