Prep baseball: East Rowan 5, Piedmont 4
By Mike London
GRANITE QUARRY ó The maximum number of baserunners a team can strand in a seven-inning baseball game is 21.
East Rowan took a shot at the world record Friday by stranding 15, but senior right fielder David Ijames refused to let the Mustangs lose in the first round of the 3A playoffs.
Ijames delivered three clutch hits and four RBIs, and Zach Smith stole home in the bottom of the seventh inning to lift the Mustangs to a 5-4win against Piedmont that left people dancing in the bleachers at Staton Field.
East (21-4) scored three times with two out in the seventh to pull the game out.
“Obviously, we didn’t play our best game, but we’ll take it,” East senior Corbin Shive said. “We kept believing we’d find some way to win, and if anyone didn’t believe it, Cody Laws made sure they did.”
Laws, one of East’s pitchers, provided serious chatter and kept the dugout at a fever pitch.
Piedmont, No. 3 seed from the SPC, did everything right ó except get the last strike. The Panthers (13-11) made the most of their four hits, played errorless ball and got tenacious pitching from Will Gamble (who spent his evening dodging line drives and jams) and hard-throwing Jim Lyerly.
“The way East swung the bats, maybe we were pretty lucky to have a chance,” coach Milt Flow said. “But our pitchers did a great job to keep us in it. We just couldn’t close it out.”
Piedmont nicked Shive for a first-inning run. East got it right back on Ben DeCelle’s double and Ijames’ two-out single.
From the second through the fifth, East mashed the ball with authority, while Piedmont didn’t, but the Mustangs couldn’t change the scoreboard. It stayed 1-1, as Gamble retired Smith and Ijames with the bases loaded in the fourth. Then Gamble got Casey Little to ground out with two on to end the fifth.
Shive stranded a Piedmont runner at third in the fourth. The visitors had a runner picked off third in the fifth, as the plate umpire reversed the original call.
In the sixth, Piedmont appeared to get a game-deciding break. The Panthers had runners at second and third with none out, but Shive struck out the next two.
Lyerly then hit a weak chopper just out of reach of a straining Shive. Second baseman Ethan Fisher charged in on the wet grass, threw wildly past first base, then crashed into the base umpire. Two runs scored on the play.
When Preston Troutman relieved Shive and uncorked a pair of wild pitches to stretch Piedmont’s lead to 4-1, things looked gloomy for the Mustangs.
“I won’t say we’ve had the mentality all year that we could come back in a game like this, but we have had that mentality since we won at Lake Norman,” East coach Brian Hightower said. “I’ve seen our confidence building.”
DeCelle and Troutman began the bottom of the sixth with walks. After Smith lined out viciously to center, Ijames singled home a run to make it 4-2. Lyerly relieved Gamble and got Piedmont out of the inning by striking out Fisher with the bases full.
Troutman worked a scoreless seventh to give the Mustangs one more chance in the bottom half.
Matt Miller and Little walked to put the tying runs on base, but Lyerly struck out DeCelle swinging at a 2-2 pitch. When Troutman was punched out on a 3-2 pitch on the inside corner, East was down to its final out.
Smith walked to fill the bases, the fourth time East had them loaded. Ijames was the next hitter. He was quickly in an 0-2 hole, and Lyerly was hurling bullets.
“Still wasn’t worried about Ijames, not even with two strikes,” Hightower said. “He’s been clutch all year. He batted .667 with runners in scoring position in our conference games.”
Ijames was a bit worried, but he came through.
“He was throwing hard, but about all fastballs,” Ijames said. “I got a fastball, kept my hands in, went the other way with it.”
Two runs scored, with Little flying around the bases to tie the game.
It was pandemonium at that point. Piedmont was in shock. Rain was falling. The crowd was unglued, screaming, stomping, high-fiving, with certain defeat suddenly turned into a deadlock.
Then Hightower was yelling at Smith, the runner at third, “Look at the plate! Look at the plate!”
Smith went creeping down the line, and then he took off, charging for home. He slid in, the emphatic call was safe, and East players barreled from the dugout, wrestling one another to the ground and celebrating an improbable comeback.
“There at the end, we showed a lot of heart,” Ijames said. “It was exciting.”
East plays at home Tuesday against Winston-Salem Parkland, an upset winner against top-ranked Ragsdale.