American Legion Baseball State Tournament: Rowan 5, Mooresville 2
By Bret Strelow
GREENVILLE ó Rowan County has clinched a spot in the championship round, but coach Jim Gantt is concerned with the short term.
Rowan is the only unbeaten team left in the American Legion state tournament following a 5-2 victory in which pitchers Forrest Buchanan, Alex Litaker, Parker Gobbel and Cody Laws limited Area III rival Mooresville to two hits. The game started after 9 p.m. on Monday and ended after midnight.
The double-elimination event at East Carolina’s Clark-LeClair Stadium is down to four teams. Legion officials attempt to avoid repeat matchups if possible, and Mooresville defeated Wilmington on Day 2.
Mooresville (20-13) will face Shelby (28-8) this afternoon at 3 p.m., and a contest between Rowan (30-6) and Wilmington (26-5) will follow at 7 p.m.
“We have to play it like we’ve got one game to win, and that’s the way we have to approach it,” Gantt said. “I don’t want to be a cliche, but that’s all you can do at this point.
“It’s not going to get easier. The last couple of games we’ve had to play good baseball games, and that’s what it ended up being. One mistake could lose it for you, and we’ve played well late.”
Buchanan (8-0) gave up one hit and two runs ó one earned ó in 52/3 innings against Mooresville, which fell behind 5-0 and received a brilliant relief effort from Ross Whitley.
Trey Holmes singled the first pitch of the game into right field, and Rowan quickly pushed three runs across against starter Ian Walters (2-3).
Holmes and Russell Michalec raced home on a triple by Zach Smith, who scored on Jon Crucitti’s single.
Crucitti, whose three-run homer to left capped the scoring in Rowan’s 6-2 win against Cherryville on Sunday night, led off the third inning Monday with a solo shot to left. An error led to another run in the third.
“(Buchanan) pitched an outstanding game,” Gantt said. “You give up one hit against an outstanding hitting team like Mooresville, they’ve been swinging it well in this tournament.
“I think that set the tone for us, and we were able to get some hits off their starter. It’s a good thing because Whitley came in and shut us down completely.”
Buchanan fired his first pitch to the backstop but retired the first seven batters on 17 pitches, including 14 strikes.
He gave up an unearned run on a bases-loaded walk to Billy Nantz in the third, then breezed through the fourth and fifth innings without allowing a baserunner.
Buchanan’s third walk of the sixth inning loaded the bases with two away, and Litaker walked Jacob Mays to draw Mooresville within 5-2. A groundout to Holmes at first base ended the threat.
“Besides the third and the sixth, I had all three of my pitches working,” Buchanan said. “I ran into a little trouble in the sixth and started to get tired.”
Mooresville left the bases loaded twice in the first six innings and failed to do damage against Rowan’s bullpen.
Litaker allowed one hit in 11/3 innings, and Gobbel escaped an eighth-inning jam.
A second walk brought the tying run to the plate with two away, but Mays hit a groundball to shortstop Preston Troutman on the first pitch. He flipped to Philip Miclat for the force at second.
Laws, who totaled three scoreless innings in Rowan’s first two tournament victories, picked up his second consecutive save by striking out two hitters in a perfect ninth.
“Coach Gantt is the main reason it’s come through for me,” Laws said. “At practice he’s made me work hard ó my mechanics, the back-leg pushoff, getting the arc for my back leg to get off the mound, following through.
“He’s worked on every pitch I have, the way I hold it in my glove. He’s helped me create a split-finger pitch, which has been really effective for me the last three games.”
Whitley was dominant in his six innings of work, allowing two hits and striking out seven.
He fanned Smith, Crucitti and Corbin Shive ó who bat third, fourth and fifth in Rowan’s lineup ó during a flawless seventh inning.
“Ross looked like Ross,” Mooresville coach Josh Graham said. “He gave us every opportunity in the world. We just did not bring the bats. That’s our worst offensive output of the year by far.”