American Legion Area III Finals: Rowan settles for second
By Mike London
ASHEBORO ó Even Energizer Bunnies Matt Hall and D.C. Cranford were running on empty, and Rowan County lost quietly to Randolph County at McCrary Park on Friday.
Brad Holland and Hunter Ridge hammered homers in Randolph’s six-run second inning, and Post 45 cruised to a 9-4 victory in the deciding game of the Area III championship series.
“It’s like we were ready to play, but we didn’t play,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “Guess we need a break. We’re tired.”Randolph won the series 3-2. Post 45 also topped Rowan in the Area III finals last season in a seven-game series.
The summer isn’t over for Rowan (32-14), which plays Area I champion Wayne County at 12:30 p.m. in the first round of the double-elimination state tournament on Tuesday. Randolph (35-11) takes on Area I runner-up Clayton at 9:30 a.m. at Gastonia’s Sims Legion Park.
Rowan probably lost Game 5 when it let a 9-0 lead slip away in Game 4 at home on Thursday.
There was some carry-over. Rowan wasn’t into it mentally. It made five errors and often looked like nine department-store mannequins. Randolph was equally tired, but it was also fired up after pulling off such a stirring comeback.
“When we went up big on them Thursday, we were thinking all we had to do was hold them off and we’d get a few days off to rest for the state tournament,” Rowan center fielder Micah Jarrett said. “But we stopped hitting, and they started. Then the whole game flip-flopped. That took a lot out of everyone.”
Jarrett drove in two runs with sacrifice flies and doubled in front of an RBI single by Zach Smith. Smith also crushed a ball over the 400-foot marker in dead-center, but they were the only two hitters who solved Randolph starter Colton Baughman, who lasted eight innings.
Rowan had treated Baughman roughly twice this season, but he was at his best in a big game.
“Colton is twice as good a competitor as he is a pitcher,” Randolph coach Ronnie Pugh said. “Rowan missed some opportunities, and he kept plugging along.”
Baughman walked one, struck out five and earned a standing ovation from Randolph fans when he finally turned things over to reliever Steven Davis after Smith homered to open the ninth.
Baughman, a southpaw, was tough on Rowan’s three strong lefty hitters. Trey and Noah Holmes and Billy Veal combined for two harmless singles and no RBIs in 10 at-bats.
The tone was set when Justin Roland and Philip Miclat opened the first inning with singles, but Rowan scored only one run. Rowan didn’t manage back-to-back hits the rest of the night.
After Rowan starter Matt Hall surrendered Holland’s two-run homer and Ridge’s grand slam in the second, it was 6-1 in a hurry, and Baughman kept Randolph comfortably ahead.
“Matt pitched well after the grand slam,” Jarrett said. “And if we’d hit like we usually hit, we would have been fine. But we were drained. We were just kinda dead out there.”
It was still entertaining, especially when Miclat pitched for the first time since Little League. He walked the only two hitters he faced in the seventh.
Miclat provided smiles, and Ethan Fisher pitched two good innings, but it was Randolph’s night ó and series.
“What we did Thursday was special because it let us come back home,” Pugh said. “That was such a momentum-turning game, and we fed off it tonight.”