Shaw column: South Rowan must wait on first place
By David Shaw
A show of hands, please, from anyone who saw this coming.
Caleb Shore didn’t. Neither did grizzled veterans Matt Ingold or Ryan Bostian or even Michael Lowman, the first-year coach who had tactfully marched South Rowan’s American Legion baseball team within smelling distance of first place in the Southern Division. The throne was there for the taking, one well-played game away.
Instead, a near-capacity crowd at Newman Park essentially paid good money to watch Rowan County take batting practice. South’s 15-3 loss was characterized by near-misses, might-have-beens and Rowan’s brilliant, pre-Independence Day fireworks display. Two hours and 21 minutes after Billy Veal’s opening pitch, Post 185/146 was shuffling out, once again sent to bed without dinner.
“Well, one thing has changed,” Lowman noted afterward. “The difference is coming here to Rowan and playing for first place. I don’t think we’ve ever done that before.”
For now, first place will have to wait. This game was like watching an older sibling reminding his kid brother who the best scrapper in the family is, no matter how big he’s getting.
“I can’t put my finger on it,” said Shore, a four-year player for SR. “Every game with them is a rivalry game. And every year we get a little better. I guess you could say they’ve just got our number.”
It’s a number that’s come up before. South has now dropped 26 of 32 decisions in the matchup, something Ingold ó a third-year participant ó had trouble explaining.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It seems like every time we play them, they give us their best shot. We know a lot of their players and yeah, we want to beat our friends. But when we play, they’re always clicking on all cylinders.”
Rowan flattened everything in its path last night, banging out 17 hits in six-plus innings. At times it played station-to-station small ball, collecting 13 singles and coaxing seven walks from a quartet of South pitchers.
“Seventeen hits,” Shore said with a shrug. “It’s hard to beat anybody who does that ó especially them.”
When it wasn’t spraying line drives around the small ballpark, Rowan played power ball ó launching three no-doubt-about-it home runs into the balmy night air, including Russell Michalec’s blast to center field on the game’s final swing.
“Our pitchers threw strikes, but their hitters came in ready,” said Bostian, the outfielder who watched Michalec’s game-winner clear the wall. “To be honest, I didn’ think that last ball was going out. I was ready to make a play in case it hit the top of the wall.”
It capped a six-run inning and an evening South would rather forget. Never mind the two-run single by Tyler Freeze or the sharp, run-scoring single by Maverick Miles that tied the score 3-3 in the top of the fourth inning. By the time Rowan’s Trey Holmes barbecued a 2-1 pitch from Will Misenheimer ó giving the hosts a 7-3 fourth-inning lead and turning the home plate area into a mosh pit ó this one was, for better or worse, in the books. An inning later it was 9-3 and South was a quart low in the grit department.
“It’s frustrating. I don’t want to lose to anybody, even Rowan,” said Lowman. “We played them tough the first time. But tonight, I didn’t like the way we competed late in the game. We got down on ourselves, kind of hung our heads a little bit. I thought we felt defeated from about the fifth inning on.”
Hopefully, the lessons South learned will serve it well. Just listen to Shore, who aches for a possible post-season shot at Rowan:
“I remember when I was young player,” he said. “You came in here and saw all these people and you knew this is special. It blew my mind.
“I hope a game like this helps our younger guys,” he continued. “I hope it leaves a bad taste in their mouths. I hope they remember what this feels like.”
And what it feels like to smell first place.
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