Legion Baseball Playoffs: Rowan County 15, Randolph 5
By Bret Strelow
Two-run hits by Russell Michalec and a critical one-hop throw from right fielder Zach Smith pushed Rowan County to a 15-5 win against Randolph County in Game 1 of an Area III semifinal series Tuesday night at Newman Park.
Smith’s accurate offering led to an inning-ending double play that thwarted Randolph’s chance to rally in the sixth. Michalec, who already had smacked a pair of two-run homers, ended the game with a seventh-inning single that scored Preston Troutman and Austin Shull.
“We always try to get on base as much as we can and drive runners in,” Michalec said. “Guys just got on in front of each other, and we strung hits together. We tried to be a little more patient at the plate and see some more pitches. That seemed to work out for us.”
Randolph scored twice in the top of the first inning against opposing pitcher Corbin Shive (5-0), but Rowan’s first seven batters reached against Jake Ozment.
The first out came when Troutman delivered a sacrifice fly that gave Rowan a 5-2 lead. Trey Holmes, who finished a home run shy of the cycle, singled before Michalec tied the game with a homer to right-center. Bases-loaded singles by Noah Holmes and Philip Miclat put Randolph in a 4-2 hole before it recorded an out.
“We hit some balls in the right spots,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “We dumped some balls in there and it kind of went bad that one inning for them.”
A three-run third inning and four-run fourth helped Rowan (23-5) establish a 12-2 lead. Trey Holmes’ two-run triple pushed the home team into double figures, and Michalec followed by hitting a ball to center for his sixth home run of the season.
Michalec also homered twice in the opener of Rowan’s previous series.
“I tried to hit it the other way, and it kind of carried a little bit more than I thought,” Michalec said.
“The ball looks pretty big this year. I think it’s Coach Gantt and Coach (Steven) Sawyer and those guys have worked with me a lot to keep my swing nice and compact.”Hunter Ridge hit a two-run homer off Shive in the fifth inning, and Randolph (19-14) settled for one more run in the sixth.
Trailing 12-5 with one away and the bases loaded, Ridge returned to the plate.
“We’re sitting there talking about, ‘This is it right here,’ ” Gantt said. ” ‘This is going to determine, maybe, the outcome of this game.’ If he hit one like he did his previous at-bat, it was going to.”
Ridge already had collected three hits from the left side thanks to solid swings at fastballs, but Shive threw a first-pitch changeup in the sixth. Ridge, a recent high school graduate who is headed to UNC Wilmington, hit a high fly to short right field.
With Randolph’s Grey Pennell preparing to sprint home from third, Smith made the catch and fired toward the plate. Shull had plenty of time to catch the throw on one bounce and apply a tag.
“That was the difference in that game,” Gantt said. “If (Ridge) does some damage there, we might lose that game, but we turned the double play.”
Rowan, which closed its previous series with a 20-12 victory against Stanly County, benefited from five Randolph errors.
The final nine runs Rowan scored were unearned.
“I think they came in right where they left off; they were hitting the ball the other night,” Randolph coach Ronnie Pugh said.
“You look at the board, we didn’t pitch it and we didn’t catch it. You have to do that to win these ballgames. We swung the bats pretty decent against a good pitcher.”
NOTES: Rowan reliever Alex Litaker entered with two away and the bases loaded in the top of the seventh inning. He struck out pinch-hitter Pearson Parks. … Shive, who allowed 10 hits in six innings, improved to 8-0 in his American Legion career. … Rowan’s Billy Veal and Randolph’s Steven Davis are slated to start on the mound tonight in Game 2 at McCrary Park. The best-of-five series returns to Newman Park on Thursday night.
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