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Shaw column: Mustangs will remember one pitch

By David Shaw
Salisbury Post
MOORESVILLE ó It was enough to make your head spin, unless, of course, your name is Brian Hightower.
The East Rowan baseball coach said all the right things Wednesday night, shortly after the Mustangs did all the wrong things in the seventh inning of a spat-filled, season-ending loss to Lake Norman.
Then again, maybe they did nothing wrong.
“The guy did a good job putting the ball in play,” said Hightower, who could have used an air bag after the Mustangs were pink-slipped out of the 3A state playoffs. “You’ve got to give all the credit to him. I thought (Corbin) Shive made a good pitch ó a low curveball on the outside part of the plate. But he swung around it, and it just found a hole.”
The guy Hightower’s talking about is Lake Norman’s Nick Keith, a junior third baseman who describes himself as a contact hitter without much power. Never before had he won a game ó much less a fourth-round playoff match ó with a walk-off hit like he did last night.
“I’m a singles hitter, up there looking for a single,” Keith said. “Just something I could drive, maybe take to the opposite field.”
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Here’s where the details get fuzzy. We know East led 3-2 with two out in the bottom of the seventh inning. We know Lake Norman had runners on second and third when Shive, who had already tossed three-plus innings of scoreless relief, fired a fastball for strike one to Keith, the No. 8 hitter in Lake Norman’s lineup.
“At that point I was as confident as I’d been all game,” Shive said. “I don’t think you can get out of that situation without confidence.”
For the 0-1 delivery, East catcher Austin Shull says he requested another fastball.
“I was thinking the hitter was probably thinking a curveball was coming next,” Shull reported. “So I called a fastball.”
Shive begged to differ.
“It was a curveball ó and it was a pretty good pitch,” he insisted. “It was just a better swing.”
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Keith, for his part, also thought it was a fastball.
“I was looking for something off-speed, but that was definitely a fastball,” he said.
More important is what happened next. Keith, a right-handed batter, chopped Shive’s low, outside pitch on the ground toward East third baseman Noah Holmes. Shortstop Preston Troutman had a front-row view.
“I thought it would be a couple steps over for Noah and that would be it ó the game’s over,” he said. “He usually gets everything.”
Instead the ball bunny-hopped past Holmes, leaving Troutman with a difficult play from deep in the shortstop hole. He lunged to his right, his body extended, only to have the ball deflect off his outstretched glove and into shallow left field.
“I thought I broke on it good,” Troutman said. “But when it got there it took a little hop over my glove.”
Two runners scored on the play, boosting Lake Norman into the state semifinals and making a losing pitcher of Shive.
“At first, that ball struck me as a routine grounder to third,” he said. “After it got by Noah, I thought Preston would grab it and throw the guy out. It just seemed like so many things went their way on that last play.”
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It was a kooky finish to a kooky game. There were more walks issued than base hits allowed. Five Lake Norman batters were hit with pitches, though only three were awarded first base. Zach Smith’s three-run homer off Catawba-bound lefty Nick Lomascolo was the game’s sole extra-base hit.
Hightower, who sweet-talked the plate umpire into allowing him a couple of unofficial trips to the mound, needed a restraining order when a fan’s postgame outburst turned ugly.
“It was a wild game,” Keith said. “Lots of emotion, lots of fight in it. It was like a showdown.”
And by the time this meeting was adjourned, it was also 4-3 Wildcats ó the final chapter in East Rowan’s 23-5 season.
“It’s disappointing,” Shull said. “We knew we had something special here. But Lake Norman, they thought they were special too. It just proves you have to take every pitch seriously. You have treat every pitch like it’s going to be your last.”
Because sometimes it could be.

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