Legion baseball: Rowan 14, Wilkes 2
By David Shaw
As a starting pitcher, Nick Smith provided some much-needed relief Saturday night.
The Rowan County right-hander pitched a complete-game four-hitter in an abbreviated 14-2 win over visiting Wilkes, helping the locals clinch first place outright in the Southern Division standings.
“Nick really needed to extend it,” coach Jim Gantt said after Smith struck out six and walked two in a tidy, seven-inning effort. “As we get closer to the playoffs, we need our pitchers to go deeper into the game.”
Smith needed just 92 pitches to lift Rowan (15-4, 12-3) to its fifth consecutive win. He struggled early, walking two of the first four Wilkes batters he faced. But he found a groove and retired the side in order in the second, third and sixth innings.
“(Gantt) was trying to extend me, trying to get more work out of me going into the playoffs,” Smith said. “From about the fifth inning on, he kept asking me if I could go one more. I kept saying yes, but at the end that’s about all I had.”
Smith (4-0, 3.21 ERA) used a buzzing, four-seam fastball and a sneaky changeup as show pitches.
His take-a-seat pitch was a knee-buckling curve that swallowed one hitter after another. Teammate Russell Michalec was certainly impressed.
“Saving your pitching is the most important thing when you get to the playoffs,” the outfielder said. “If we know someone like Nick can go seven (innings), then we only have to use one or two other guys at the most.”
Michalec was part of a Rowan lineup that produced 15 hits. He went 3-for-5 with a pair of RBI singles. Trey Holmes and his glow-in-the-dark bat enjoyed a fifth game in the leadoff spot ó he’s gone 15-for-20, scored 14 runs and knocked in 13 since assuming the role ó collecting two doubles and a run-scoring single. And catcher Matt Miller had three singles and scored Rowan’s final run on a wild pitch.
Holmes was asked if Rowan, which closes its regular season Monday when Mocksville visits for a make-up game, is playoff-ready.
“I think if our pitchers keep pounding the strike zone and our hitters keep taking advantage of mistakes, we’ll be ready to go,” he said.
Wilkes (7-9, 5-8) was pretty much cooked after three innings in Rowan’s oven.
Rowan scored twice in the bottom of the first inning against losing pitcher Brett Young, then sent 15 batters to plate and scored nine runs on nine hits in the third. Included were two-run singles by Corbin Shive and Philip Miclat.
“Some days you come out and everything goes your way,” Post 31 coach Terry Johnson said. “And some days the game just bites you. Today it bit us.”
The only runs Smith surrendered came on fourth-inning error and a towering home run by designated hitter Josh Zumbrook in the sixth. Other than that, it was smooth sailing.
“If we can keep putting up double-digit runs like this, we could a make a run through the playoffs,” said Smith. “The pitching looks good, and the bats are clicking. That’s a good sign.”
Johnson, for one, couldn’t help but notice.
“Their pitcher had great control,” he said. “When you get that, you can give up some runs and some hits and still win a lot of ballgames.”
NOTE: The first pitch was delayed more than 20 minutes because Wilkes didn’t arrive at Newman Park until 6:10 p.m. Its team bus overheated twice en route to Salisbury.
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