Legion Baseball: Rowan County 7, Hope Mills 4
By Bret Strelow
GASTONIA ó The bases were loaded when Hope Mills batter Seth Wagner received the sign for a safety squeeze, and he bunted the ball to his left.
Rowan County reliever Matt Hall sprinted toward the third-base line, made an off-balance throw to catcher Austin Shull and fell face-first into the dirt. Shull snagged the toss, stepped on home plate and braced himself for a collision with Josh Elmore.
Rowan endured some big hits, but it delivered its share.
Rowan moved forward in the winners bracket of the American Legion state tournament by collecting a 7-4 victory against Hope Mills at Sims Park on Wednesday night. Two-out hits produced Rowan’s first five runs, and Noah Holmes drew a bases-loaded walk with two away in the sixth inning.
Hall took over on the mound in the fourth and allowed one run in four innings to help Rowan (34-14) advance to tonight’s 7:30 p.m. matchup with fellow unbeaten Randolph County (37-11).
“Boy, with a good bullpen and two-out hits, you can go a long way,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “We were fortunate tonight with that. Sometimes you get two strikes and you kind of give up on the at-bat, and they beared down. With two outs it makes it even worse, but I’m proud of what they did.”
Rowan dealt Tre Britt, a Methodist left-hander, his first loss in 11 decisions this summer.
He struck out four of the first eight batters he faced, but Rowan broke through for three runs in the third inning. Hope Mills (21-8) chased starting pitcher Zack Simpson during a three-run fourth that tied the game, and Rowan went ahead for good in the fifth.
Justin Roland scored on Micah Jarrett’s two-out double for a 4-3 edge. Jarrett raced home on an opposite-field, bloop single by Noah Holmes.
“The guys settled in and tried to think about what pitch (Britt) was getting them out with in their first at-bat and tried to sit on that to take it away,” Gantt said. “Our hitters made those adjustments, and we got a couple of hits the opposite way.”
Russell Michalec crushed a fastball from Britt to left for a leadoff homer in the sixth, and Hope Mills intentionally walked Jarrett to load the bases with two away in the same inning.
Noah Holmes fell behind 1-2 in the count before taking three straight pitches. All three were called balls, and the final two were extremely close to the strike zone.
Britt (10-1) departed after allowing a leadoff single to D.C. Cranford in the seventh.
“They are a good-hitting baseball team,” Hope Mills coach Doug Watts said. “Tre felt like he had his average stuff. He wasn’t hitting his spots quite as good as he had in earlier games, but these people swing the bat.
“I told him a good baseball team beat him. An average team didn’t beat him; a good baseball team beat him.”
Hall wasn’t perfect on the mound, but he handed a lead over to Trey Holmes. Roland pitched the ninth and earned his seventh save.
Phillip Weaver hit a two-run, game-tying single off Hall in the third, and Hope Mills trailed 7-3 before Dale Urquhart smashed Hall’s first pitch of the sixth for a solo homer.
Simpson retired two fewer batters than Hall, and both allowed five hits. Three walks hurt Simpson ó Hall didn’t issue any free passes.
“They’ve got some older players, and that makes it tough when you have to face college hitters,” Gantt said.
“(Hall) did a great job. He battled. He made a couple bad pitches, and he pitched out of some jams. If you don’t get the right guy with the right intestinal fortitude kind of stuff, if you don’t have some guts, you won’t be able to do that. Matt has some guts.”
Gantt showed some in the early going, when it looked like Rowan would struggle to score off Britt.
Shull was on first base with two away in the third when Philip Miclat lined a ball down the left-field line. Gantt made an aggressive move by waving Shull home, and he beat the throw to the plate.
Miclat scored on a double by Trey Holmes, who came in on Jarrett’s sharp single to shallow left field. Gantt pulled away a stop sign and motioned toward home at the last instant.
“We’re getting pretty hot right now, and we’re coming together at a good time,” Jarrett said. “We’re playing real good team ball.
“It’s always key whenever you get two outs and then you get a hit. That’s what we did tonight, and that’s what we did yesterday, too. We’ve been good in key situations.”