Legion Baseball: Randolph 9, Rowan 7
By Mike London
Well, it’s a serious series, after all.
Randolph County did what no other Area III team has done all summer ó it came to Newman Park and won a ballgame. Randolph scored the decisive run on a ninth-inning wild pitch, claimed a see-saw 9-7 victory and sliced Rowan’s lead in a best-of-five series to two games to one in front of a massive, disappointed crowd.
Right fielder Zach Smith did everything humanly possible to produce a Rowan sweep, belting a three-run homer and throwing out a runner at the plate, but it wasn’t enough.
“You just can’t blow up the way we did tonight,” Smith said. “There’s not a lot to say and nothing we can do about this one now. We just have to come back and play better.”
The Area III semifinal series to determine a state-tournament representative was extended at least until Saturday afternoon when the teams will meet in Game 4 at 2 p.m. at McCrary Park. Scheduling conflicts won’t permit a game in Asheboro tonight.
Rowan (24-6) hammered out 31 base hits in wrecking Randolph 15-5 and 19-3 in a lopsided pair of 10-run rule games to begin the series, but the defending state champs played sharper defense Thursday night. Give a lot of credit to Randolph pitchers Colton Baughman and Jake Ozment for calming things down.
Baughman, a Catawba-bound southpaw, hurled the clincher in Randolph’s series with Burlington-Graham. He had to sit and watch as Rowan romped in Games 1 and 2.
“The last two nights we’ve been out of the game after a couple of innings,” Baughman said. “My goal was to try and help us stay in the game, just give us a chance. Rowan is a great team, but we weren’t going to give up quietly.”
Bradley Holland’s two-run homer off Forrest Buchanan helped Randolph get three runs in the first inning.
Rowan got two runs in the bottom half of the first when Jon Crucitti and Corbin Shive bounced RBI singles.
When Smith unloaded a three-run bomb to left-center in the second to put Rowan on top 5-3, it didn’t look good for Baughman, but he got better and better as the game wore on. He got ahead of hitters. He kept the ball low.”
“He had a good breaking pitch,” Smith said. The fastball I hit out was the last one I saw all night.”
A fifth-inning homer by Preston Asbill tied it 5-5. Nolan Seawell’s two-run single in the sixth gave Randolph a 7-5 edge.
Reliever Cody Laws kept Randolph (20-15) from scoring in the seventh and eighth.
Shive’s RBI single in the seventh made it 7-6. Matt Miller doubled in the eighth and scored the run that tied the game 7-7 when he scrambled home from third on Russell Michalec’s groundball and kicked the ball out of catcher Jake Snow’s mitt.
Ozment relieved Baughman in an eighth-inning pressure cooker. Score tied. Bases loaded. One out. Crowd screaming. Crucitti and Shive coming up. Ozment, who was battered as Randolph’s Game 1 starter, fanned both sluggers on lively 0-2 fastballs.
Randolph got two in the ninth when reliever Preston Troutman couldn’t find the strike zone. Three walks, plus a wild pitch, and Rowan trailed. Ozment singled home insurance. Then he set down Rowan 1-2-3 to end the game.
“Tip your hat to Baughman and Ozment,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “We had plenty of chances, had the right guys up in big situations, had our closer on the mound at the end. It just didn’t work out tonight, but that’s baseball.”