Legion baseball: Mooresville 11, High Point 9
By Mike London
MOORESVILLE ó Tall, thin right-hander Ross Whitley snapped off his best curveball of the summer, flipped his glove toward the home dugout, clenched his right fist and walked off the diamond with a purposeful stride.
Whitley nailed down the last six pressure-packed outs as Mooresville beat High Point 11-9 on Sunday to continue an amazing turnaround.
The Moors got home runs from Billy Nantz, Dylan West, Eric Manser and Michael Gatton. They used sheer power overcame some struggles when they were wearing gloves.
The Moors held on for dear life after leading 10-2 early. Whitley saved a victory for right-hander Wes Dumford, who battled his way into the seventh inning. Dumford (6-2) was making his series debut after returning from a mission trip.
“There was a lot of redemption for me in this game because I’ve not been pitching too well,” Whitley said. “My new changeup was nasty. My curveball was spot-on. I was locating it really well.”
Whitley, a Catawba signee, ended the game on a curveball known as “The Worm.” He throws it right at the hitter, then watches it dive toward the outside corner.
Mooresville (18-10) was down 4-0 just four batters into the series opener and dropped the first two games. But it won the last three contests and punched its ticket for the state tournament in Greenville.
This will be Mooresville’s first appearance in the state event under the single-site, double-elimination format that originated in 2000. Rowan and Kannapolis traveled to Granite Falls that first year. This will be the first time since 2000 that both Area III representatives will be from the Southern Division.
Mooresville was 5-8 and stood seventh in the division not long ago, but it won its last three regular-season games and is 9-2 in the playoffs.
“We got off the mat and played baseball,” Mooresville coach Josh Graham said. “These guys have showed me they have a little bit of want. We make it exciting ó we’re good at that ó but we’re going to the state tournament.”
The last two nights the Moors beat Division I signees, handling Conner Scarborough (Gardner-Webb) on Saturday and knocking out Ethan Ogburn (N.C. State) on Sunday.
The Moors stole seven bases in the early innings, and West and cousin Aaron Meadows executed the old walk-off-first play in the second inning. As West casually jogged his way into a pickle between first and second, Meadows raced home and beat a wide throw.
Meadows’ two-run double and West’s two-run homer keyed a six-run third inning.
West credited batting practice thrown by his 73-year-old grandfather, Whitey Meadows, for helping him end a slump. Whitey declared he’s still got “a little mustard left” on his fastball. His grandson’s homer was a no-doubt blast. The outfielders never moved.
“The last two nights were about the worst of my baseball life,” West said. “I couldn’t hit and I couldn’t field. Grandpa helped me out a lot. That homer felt great, especially the way I have been hitting.”
Manser and Nantz homered back-to-back in the fourth inning to make it 10-2. Manser’s shot ended Ogburn’s night. Then Nantz greeted hard-throwing reliever David Coffey with a blast.
After that, it was High Point’s turn ó seven unanswered runs combined with excellent defense and overpowering pitching by Coffey before Gatton swung momentum back to the Moors with his line-drive homer in the last of the eighth.
That left it all up to Whitley. He calmly went out to the mound and shut the door.
“It didn’t look good for us for a long time,” West said. “But these last few weeks we’ve put it all together.”
The Moors will play Rowan County (25-6) at Newman Park tonight in Game 1 of a best-of-three Area III championship series.
NOTES: Mooresville is making its best postseason run since it lost to Caldwell County 4-1 in the Western championship series in 1990. … Mooresville first baseman Brantley Horton, a West Rowan graduate, is supposed to report to the Naval Academy soon, but his father, Jon, is hopeful of getting an extension now that baseball will continue. … Five Moors, including Horton, attend St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Mooresville. … Gatton’s first two homers of the season have come in the last two games. Gatton got his chance with Jacob Mays out of the lineup. Mays, who was in New York on a trip to see the Yankees, returned last night.