Prep Baseball Playoffs: East Rowan 9, Southwest Guilford 1
By David Shaw
HIGH POINT ó The gap between East Rowan’s baseball team and a potential state championship was narrowed to five victories Friday night.
Just don’t broadcast it too loud around coach Brian Hightower.
“We always think game-to-game,” he insisted after the Mustangs disposed of host Southwest Guilford 9-1 in a third-round matchup. “At-bat to at-bat. Pitch to pitch. You never look ahead.”
Hightower remains a thinking man’s kind of coach, always calculating ways of gaining an advantage. After East (23-4) collected 12 hits, stole seven bases and plowed its way into Tuesday’s fourth-round game at Lake Norman, he provided some you-are-there insight.
“This game is 90 percent mental,” he said. “When you feel like you can do some things at the plate and feel like you can do some things on the mound and you know you’ve got guys behind you defending, it’s a confidence builder. Right now our guys are feeling confident and coming through.”
The Mustangs can thank pitcher Corbin Shive for steering them into the winner’s circle last night. The Charlotte-bound right-hander was more of a laborer than a craftsman on the mound, surviving five innings before reliever Kent Basinger tied it all up in a pretty package.
“The first couple innings I battled through, trying to get used to that mound,” Shive said after scattering six singles and fanning six batters. “It was a big, high mound. Once I settled down I just let the defense work for me.”
Shive threw first-pitch strikes to 14 of the 24 Southwest hitters he faced and was reached for only a second-inning run. By then East had a 2-0 lead, courtesy of Preston Troutman’s two-out, two-run triple against losing pitcher Ethan Ogburn in the top of the second inning.
“It wasn’t that easy,” said ER infielder Ethan Fisher. “We had to work for this. That first pitcher (Ogburn) was pretty good. He threw hard, hit his spots and had a curveball or slider that really broke.”
Ogburn, a hard-luck right-hander headed for N.C. State next season, struck out eight men in 41/3 innings, giving him 27 in three post-season outings (13 innings). But by the top of the third East had Southwest’s ace in a hole.
“He’s been fantastic for us all year,” said SWG coach Reid Holmes. “I wouldn’t trade him. But to me he didn’t locate as well as he has and didn’t have as much velocity. He’s touched 91 (MPH) this year.”
It was Shive who altered the game’s landscape with one third-inning swing. He blasted a 3-1 fastball from Ogburn over the wall in right-center field, giving East a 4-1 lead.
“He threw me a curveball on 2-and-1 that was out of the strike zone,” said Shive. “So I knew he was coming back with a fastball and I just sat on it.”
Before the inning was over, Fisher delivered a run-scoring single and another run crossed when Ben DeCelle reached on an error.
“Corbin’s home run was the big hit,” said Fisher, went 3-for-3, scored twice and knocked in two runs. “It made everything easier.”
And made everything tougher for Southwest.
“East Rowan puts so much pressure on you offensively,” Holmes said. “They run the bases so well and there are no easy outs in their lineup, one-through-nine.”
Now, five wins shy of a title it fell one victory short of claiming a year ago, East is ready to start keeping score.
“You can’t sit around and not think about it,” said Shive. “Especially after last year left a bad taste in our mouths.”
NOTES: Fisher added an RBI single in the top of the fifth and teammates Noah Holmes and Luke Thomas produced run-scoring hits an inning later. … Shive’s home run was his fourth of the season. His ERA rose from 1.11 to 1.50. … Southwest finished its year 15-11. … The Mustangs split a pair of regular-season games with NPC champ Lake Norman (23-2), falling 6-2 in Granite Quarry and winning 6-0 on the road.
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