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Legion baseball: Rowan opens series with Randolph

By Mike London
mlondon@salisburypost.com
Rowan County had Monday off and needed it after a grueling series with Stanly County that lasted four games ó five days ó and seemed to drag on for two weeks.
Rowan (23-5) opens its third-round series against Randolph County (19-13) tonight at Newman Park.
This is the best-of-five series for which fans have been patiently waiting. The survivor becomes one of eight qualifiers for the state tournament in Greenville.
It seems illogical to have the top two remaining seeds in Area III squaring off in a semifinal, but the American Legion commissioner, not Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, produced the pairings after a few changes of mind and heart.
The original plan was revised in an announcement made Saturday night. Then the brackets were re-revised while people were eating breakfast Sunday morning.
We’ll go with these brackets until further notice.
Rowan, the No. 1 seed from the Southern Division, is playing Randolph, the No. 2 seed from the North. In the other semifinal, Southern No. 3 seed Mooresville opens against Northern No. 4 seed High Point.
Rowan was going to play someone strong no matter how the pairings were structured. High Point is loaded. So is Randolph.
Rowan clobbered Randolph 17-0 and 29-6 during the regular season in glorified exhibitions that won’t matter a bit once Randolph starts sending its serious hurlers to the mound in this series. Rowan has seen enough of Colton Baughman, Steven Davis and Jake Ozment over the years to know what’s coming.
Rowan has also seen enough of coach Ronnie Pugh’s sluggers ó Davis, Hunter Ridge, Bradley Holland and Nolan Seawell, etc. ó to know what’s coming at the plate as well.
Ridge is one of the better hitters in the history of Area III. At last count he’d pounded 35 home runs in his career. Over the last three seasons, Ridge is 35-for-71 (.493) against Rowan with three homers and 21 RBIs.
Randolph’s victories in its second-round series with Burlington-Graham came by scores of 10-9, 10-9 and 23-5, so it’s clear Post 45 can still light up a scoreboard.
Game 2 of the series will be at Asheboro’s McCrary Park on Wednesday. Game 3 is set for Rowan on Thursday. If the series goes past three games, there’s a scheduled night off Friday because of conflicts with McCrary Park. Game 4 would be played in Asheboro on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. If a Game 5 is necessary, it will be at Newman Park on Sunday night.
There’s a ton of history between the programs. Twenty-five years ago, Rowan’s toughest obstacle on the way to a state title was getting past Post 45 in a seven-game series that decided the Area III championship.
More recently, Randolph, known as Asheboro for many years, has been a serious problemfor Rowan.
Rowan is 15-17 against Post 45 during Jim Gantt’s nine seasons as head coach.
Rowan lost the Area III championship series to Post 45 in 2001, 2007 and 2008, although both programs were already assured state tournament berths when those matchups occurred. Post 45 also prevailed against Rowan in state tournament meetings in 2001 and 2008.
Last season was Rowan’s roughest experience with Randolph. Rowan won only two of eight contests.
Rowan’s best hitter this season has been veteran first baseman Trey Holmes, who will be a sophomore at Pitt Community College this fall.
Randolph has been able to do a good job against Holmes in the past. He is 14-for-71 (.197) against Randolph the last three years, although he’s driven in 16 runs in 18 games.
Holmes was moved to the leadoff spot in Rowan’s 15th game and is a sizzling 33-for-58 (.569) with seven homers in that role. The lefty hitter has scored 29 runs in 13 games out of the leadoff spot and has crossed the plate at least once in each game. Twice, he’s scored four runs.
Other torrid hitters for Rowan are outfielders Zach Smith and Russell Michalec. Smith is 14-for-33 (.424) with 12 RBIs in Rowan’s seven playoff games, while Michalec is 14-for-30 (.467) with a dozen RBIs in the playoffs.
Rowan will probably stick with a rotation of unbeaten pitchers in this series ó Corbin Shive (4-0), Billy Veal (3-0), Forrest Buchanan (7-0) and Nick Smith (5-0).
Opening the series at Newman Park is a huge plus for Rowan, which is 14-1 at home this season.

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