Legion baseball: South Rowan 9, Concord 8
By Mike London
LANDIS ó South Rowan made a determined effort to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, but Blake Houston made everything right with one terrific at-bat.
South watched a six-run lead go up in smoke and trailed heading to the last of the ninth. A two-out, two-run single up the middle by Houston, the No. 9 hitter, provided a 9-8 walk-off victory and halted a five-game Concord winning streak.
“When we came in for the bottom of the ninth, I told everyone to keep fighting, that we could still win it,” Houston said. “I don’t remember how many pitches I fouled off with two strikes, two outs and the bases loaded, but it was at least four of ’em. Then I finally got a good pitch to hit. I was pretty sure it was going through.”
The ball went through. Matt Ingold scored the tying run standing. Big Brett Huffman, who was galloping at full speed from second base when Dalton Shuford’s 3-2 pitch was delivered, scored the winning run with a slide.
“The guys showed great character,” South coach Michael Lowman said. “Just about every move I made backfired tonight, but the guys picked me up.”
South (8-2, 6-2) is off to the best start in program history. It’s never been better than 6-4 at this juncture. South stayed right behind Rowan County in the division race.
Left-handed pitcher Cameron Park, returning from a bout with mono, gave Lowman five good innings on the mound, and South built a lead with spectacular outfield defense and three-run homers by Huffman and Ryan Bostian.
Huffman’s homer, his first ever in Legion ball, came with two out in the first inning and made it 4-0. Bostian hit his third of the season with two out in the fourth. Both homers came on fastballs from Concord starter Garrett Furr.
Concord pulled within 7-2 in the fifth, then climbed back in the game in the sixth on one sweet swing by Michael Tancini, who launched a three-run homer. Tancini got a chance to hit because No. 9 batter Anthony Holdridge stubbornly drew a two-out walk.
“We’ve got to be more aware of where the outs are in a lineup and go after the right ones,” Lowman said. “After that walk, I made the mistake of pitching to Tancini.”
South had a chance to ice it in the eighth, but Concord reliever Tyler Ring got back-to-back strikeouts to strand runners at second and third.
Preston Penninger gave South a sterling relief effort. Penninger, who entered the game with a 0.00 ERA, got the third out in the sixth and kept Concord scorelesss in the seventh and eighth with the help of a pair of fine plays by Ingold, the shortstop.
With South clinging to a 7-5 lead in the ninth, Shuford came to the plate with two out and one on. When Penninger fell behind Shuford 2-0, Lowman ordered an intentional pass. Lowman went against the baseball book when he put the tying run on base, but there was a reason. Shuford, the cleanup man, had drilled two balls very hard. Brandon Porter, the guy behind him, had looked far less dangerous.
Lowman summoned Ingold to the mound to close it out. Porter hammered a 2-1 pitch for a three-run homer that put Concord (7-8, 5-7) ahead for the first time.
“Ingold’s been our guy all year, and he painted with his first fastball,” Lowman said. “I thought Matt located a fastball away on the 2-1, but give their kid credit. He put a really good swing on it.”
Ingold finished the top of the ninth with a strikeout, but a stunned South team was on the verge of a devastating loss. Shuford took the mound for the bottom of the ninth. Two walks and an infield error loaded the bases. Then Houston delivered.
“It was tough,” Concord coach Justin Ridenhour said. “We went from really high to very low in that last inning. It was a great ballgame, and we were glad to be part of it. South’s outfield made a big difference. They turned a lot of sure doubles into outs.”