Legion baseball state tournament: Rowan 6, Cherryville 2

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 27, 2009

By Bret Strelow
GREENVILLE ó Players from Rowan County and Cherryville are staying on the fourth floor of the same hotel.
The next team Rowan encounters isn’t filled with strangers, either.
Rowan, sparked by starting pitcher Billy Veal’s eight effective innings, remained in the winners bracket of the American Legion state tournament with a 6-2 victory against Cherryville on Sunday night at East Carolina’s Clark-LeClair Stadium.
Rowan (29-6) and fellow Area III qualifier Mooresville (20-12) are the only 2-0 teams in the double-elimination event. They will square off tonight at 7:30 p.m.
“You want to talk about familiarity? We’re not talking the same floor of the hotel; we’re talking, for me at least, same high school, same classes,” said Rowan center fielder Jon Crucitti, a former Mooresville player. “We definitely know each other, and we respect each other. It should be fun.”
Rowan and Mooresville, which is 0-4 this season against the Area III champions, are three victories away from a championship. Rowan moved into that desirable position by beating a team it had lost to in each of the last two state tournaments.
Back-to-back RBI doubles by Austin Shull and Trey Holmes erased a one-run deficit in the fifth against Cherryville, giving Rowan a 3-2 advantage. The score stayed the same until the eighth, when Crucitti hit a three-run homer off Post 100 starter Jake Watts.
Cherryville overcame a 6-1 deficit to hand Rowan its first loss in the 2007 tournament and eliminated Rowan in a game started by Veal last summer.
“They’re a thorn in everybody’s side because they’re always good, they’re well-coached and they have good players,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “They always compete, and it’s not over for them. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re not in the winners bracket game in the finals because they’ve done that kind of thing before.”
Veal (5-0) pitched into the ninth Sunday and gave way to Cody Laws after allowing the first two batters to reach. Veal tied Forrest Buchanan (eight innings in a 9-3 win against Stanly) for the longest outing by a Rowan pitcher this season.
A sharp breaking ball was critical for Veal, who allowed eight hits and five walks. Two of his three strikeouts came after Cherryville (28-10) put a runner on third with one away in the sixth.
“I ended up getting some big strikeouts and being able to throw (breaking balls) for strikes,” Veal said. “Sometimes it’s there and sometimes it’s not. Tonight, it was there.”
The dangerous Watts came to the plate with two runners in scoring position in the third, but Cherryville managed only one run on a weak groundout.
Watts was up again in the seventh with one away and a runner on first as Rowan held a one-run lead. Veal caught a line drive and threw to first for a double play.
Cherryville’s leadoff batter reached in the eighth, but a 6-4-3 double play helped Rowan’s cause.
“Billy just competes,” Gantt said. “He gives you everything he has, and he’s good. Still, I think he’s better than what he was tonight.
“He’s so competitive with his stuff that he can do what he did tonight. No knock on him tonight, but one day we’ll see him when he’s at his best.”
Veal struggled to command his fastball at times, but he fielded his position flawlessly.
In the second inning alone he snared a line drive and made an athletic play to stop a hard grounder up the middle.
“After throwing the pitch you always have to be ready for a comebacker, and it seems like a couple of them came back pretty quick tonight and jumped on me,” Veal said. “I tried to move quick and not get hurt, really.”
Veal and Rowan both emerged unblemished from the emotional contest.