Legion baseball: Rowan 9, Randolph 4
By Mike London
Corbin Shive’s fifth-inning liner to right field didn’t sound all that good or look all that good, but like Rowan County’s season, it just kept going.
The baseball landed in a gap between the outfield fence and the scoreboard, and Shive had a two-run homer that helped put away Randolph County 9-4 on Saturday afternoon at McCrary Park.”I thought it might be a double,” Shive said. “Not only did I not think it was going out, I didn’t even see it go out. (Baserunner Noah) Holmes was running hard, but then I saw the outfielder just standing out there and wondered what happened. I looked for an umpire, and he was signalling home run. Then I started jogging.”
The finger-swirling gesture made by umpires on homers is a signal Rowan hitters understand. Shive’s homer was his 10th. Trey Holmes owns nine. Zach Smith has eight. The team has swatted 47 to equal the 1998 club’s program record.
Boosted by seven longballs, Rowan (25-6) won the Area III semifinal series 3-1, secured its third straight berth in the state tournament and finally got the best of a program that has been its biggest nemesis over the last decade.
“We played solid defense, and our pitchers filled up the strike zone,” Trey Holmes said.
Saying Rowan played solid defense was putting it mildly.
With Jon Crucitti missing because of a trip to Vanderbilt, Billy Veal manned right field and Smith shifted from right to center.
Both made magnificent catches in the third inning. Veal made a diving grab in foul territory. Smith chased down a blast and plucked it out of the air on the dead run with his back to the plate. He caught the ball a foot from the fence in right-center.
Left fielder Russell Michalec added a shoestring catch of a sinking liner in the eighth. Smith made another sprinting catch to end the eighth ó hurdling Veal, who also had raced into position to make the play.
“Zach made catches on two balls I didn’t think he had any chance to get to,” Shive said. “He just tracked ’em down and helped us finally come out on the good end with Randolph. They don’t have some of the guys they did last year, but they’re still good. They’re still a big name.”
The game see-sawed early. It was 2-2 heading to the fourth. Veal opened the inning with a double, and Randolph starter Jake Ozment walked Matt Miller. After Philip Miclat and Preston Troutman failed to move the runners, Ozment faced leadoff man Trey Holmes, who produced 10 RBIs in the series. Ozment was a strike away from getting out of the jam when Holmes drilled a two-run double to left-center.
“He threw an outside curveball, so I sat back and threw my hands,” Holmes said. “It ended up in a gap.”
After Holmes’ clutch hit, Rowan took over and built a 9-3 cushion on the strength of Shive’s opposite-field homer and wildness by Randolph pitchers. Rowan took advantage of five walks to score three times in the sixth.
“We got over some early jitters, settled in and played pretty well,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “Veal added a big spark. You always know what you’re going to get from Billy ó and that’s everything he’s got.”
On the mound, Rowan got the job done with a committee of five hurlers. Starter Nick Smith was lifted after walking home a run in the fifth. He exited with a 6-3 lead, but he was one out short of qualifying for the win.
Winner Alex Litaker got Rowan out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth by producing a groundball on his first pitch. Litaker allowed a solo homer to Steven Davis but nailed down five outs. Parker Gobbel got three outs. Cody Laws got two outs with a big assist from Zach Smith’s glove. Shive had trouble with the mound, but he finished off Randolph (20-16) by striking out the side in the ninth.
The top four starters in Rowan’s rotation are 21-0. The bullpen is 4-6, but it came up big in the series clincher.
“It got a little shaky out there because our bullpen guys were coming into the game in real tough situations,” Gantt said.
Every pitching move Gantt made worked out, and he boosted his coaching record against Randolph to 18-18.
Rowan opens a best-of-three Area III championship series Monday at Newman Park against the Mooresville-High Point winner.
The Moors and High Point will decide their series tonight at Mooresville.