Legion State Tournament: Cherryville 6, Rowan 3
By Bret Strelow
GASTONIA ó The young autograph seeker handed a pen to Rowan County’s Micah Jarrett, who affixed his signature to the back of the boy’s white T-shirt.
Celebrity status wasn’t much of a consolation prize for Rowan’s players, who received hugs from fans and family members after a season-ending loss to Cherryville on Friday afternoon.
Cherryville’s 6-3 victory ousted Rowan from the American Legion state tournament two days after Jim Gantt’s squad improved to 2-0 in the double-elimination event.
Rowan, which finished third in its own division, was one of the last four survivors at the state level. It qualified for the tournament taking the final three games in its best-of-seven series with Burlington. Rowan faced a 3-1 deficit in the Area III semifinals after Legion officials erased a Game 4 win.
Victories against Wayne County and Hope Mills at Sims Legion Park moved Rowan within three wins of a state title, but it lost back-to-back contests to Randolph County and Cherryville.
“We were lucky to be here, especially after they took that game away from us against Burlington,” Gantt said. “The guys showed a lot of guts being able to bounce back and get us here. It was a lot of fun.”
Rowan (34-16) ran out of comebacks in its marathon season.
It failed to capitalize on scoring opportunities in each of the first two innings against Cherryville, which took a 2-0 lead in the third thanks to an RBI single by Justin Watts and a sacrifice fly by Nate Wright.
An errant pickoff throw to first allowed Rowan’s Noah Holmes to score from third in the top of the fourth inning, and Cherryville (42-7) answered with four more runs.
Rowan made a seventh-inning push against Drew Reynolds, who was making only his second start of the season, and generated runs with a double-play groundout and a Holmes double.
Rowan, which totaled 32 hits and 16 runs in its two tournament victories, had 19 hits and four runs in its two losses. It was held scoreless in 15 of its final 17 innings.
“When we had runners in scoring position, we didn’t follow through with it as much,” said Holmes, a rising 11th-grader who went 7-for-15 with eight RBIs, three walks and one home run in the tournament. “We normally do a good job with that.”
Early struggles hurt Rowan for the second straight game.
With one away in the first, Philip Miclat singled and Trey Holmes walked. They advanced on Jarrett’s groundout, and Gantt argued unsuccessfully for catcher’s interference.
A meeting of umpires didn’t lead to an agreement that catcher Aaron Haynes’ mitt had made contact with Jarrett’s bat during the swing, and Cherryville coach Bobby Dale Reynolds left the dugout once play was set to resume. He spoke to his infielders at the mound with two runners in scoring position and Noah Holmes standing near the plate.
Drew Reynolds, the coach’s son, looked in for a sign as Holmes prepared for the first pitch of his at-bat. Reynolds then wheeled around on a pickoff move and fired to second base, where Trey Holmes was tagged out to end the threat.
“Some things don’t work like you draw it up, but that worked like we drew it up,” Bobby Dale Reynolds said. “It saved us an opportunity to not have to throw to a good hitter with runners in scoring position.
“Sometimes you don’t do it when you go to the mound ó you do it a few pitches later ó but we were scared he might get a hit before we had a chance to run it.”
Rowan caught a break when right fielder Zach Smith snagged a flyball for the second out and threw home to catcher Matt Miller, who tagged Haynes for an inning-ending double play.
Noah Holmes walked to open the second inning, and Smith singled. A single by Russell Michalec loaded the bases with nobody out, but Drew Reynolds didn’t allow a run.
D.C. Cranford took three strikes, Reynolds fanned Miller on four pitches and Roland grounded out.
“We were out there talking damage control,” Bobby Dale Reynolds said. “We knew we might give up one or two, but let’s leave it at that. Getting out of that without getting any was like an early Christmas gift.”
Rowan reliever Matt Hall, who took over for starter Billy Veal in the fourth inning and allowed one inherited runner to score, excelled again while keeping his club within striking distance.
Hall officially gave up three hits and no runs in 42/3 innings. He relied on his curveball and retired 13 of the last 14 batters he faced.
“Matt Hall’s a real big reason why we were here,” Gantt said. “He was our go-to guy as a reliever, as a spot starter, as a first baseman sometimes, as a DH.”
Hall, who picked up the win Wednesday, took the mound for the third time in four games and retired 10 straight Cherryville batters at one point. He needed a total of 10 pitches to erase the final six hitters in that stretch.
Hall, making his final appearance in a Rowan uniform, allowed one run and eight hits in 92/3 innings for a 0.93 ERA at the state tournament.
“I’d pitch every day if they’d let me,” he said. “I wanted to leave it all out there since it was my last year. I left it on the field.
“My arm’s tired, but I wasn’t going to give up. I wasn’t going to give up on my team.”
NOTE: The first of two possible games between Cherryville and unbeaten Randolph County will begin today at 1 p.m. Cherryville must win twice against Randolph, which eliminated Clayton on Friday night, to claim the state title.
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