Legion World Series: Rowan 8, Southern Nevada 7
By Bret Strelow
FARGO, N.D. ó Cody Laws and Parker Gobbel charged out of the visitors dugout to congratulate fellow reliever Alex Litaker near the first-base line.
Litaker’s magic act gave Rowan County a chance to really celebrate an inning later.
Litaker escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam with the score tied in defending national champion Southern Nevada’s final at-bat, and two runs in the top half of the first extra inning pushed Rowan to an 8-7 victory at the American Legion World Series.
“I was nervous,” Litaker said. “I knew all I had to do was keep it down, fill the strike zone up and let my defense fix it. I’m not going to strike anybody out with what I’m throwing.”
On the brink of elimination one day after suffering a walkoff defeat, Rowan (39-9) will play today at either 2 p.m. or 8 p.m. EDT. The probable opponent is a Midland (Mich.) team that takes a 51-8 record into a winners bracket game this morning.
Sunday’s matchup with Southern Nevada (63-14) was scheduled for seven innings, and Rowan trailed 4-0 heading to the fourth. Litaker’s seventh-inning performance preserved a 6-6 tie.
Zach Smith singled with two outs in the eighth against reliever Stephen Manthei, an Arizona signee who started Game 1 for the Titans. Smith stole second base and scored on a single by Noah Holmes.
Holmes, who went 4-for-4 after striking out three times and committing two errors in Rowan’s win against Mt. Airy (Md.) on Saturday night, raced home on a double by Jon Crucitti.
“It was kind of weird because I had the worst game of my life and the best game of my life,” said Holmes, who took extra swings with assistant coach Steven Sawyer before the contest. “I’m happy it happened because I filled in some hits I didn’t get the first two games.”
Litaker (4-1) stayed in for the bottom of the eighth, and a leadoff error contributed to an unearned run that scored on a groundout to second baseman Philip Miclat. With the tying run at second, Miclat caught a looping line drive to end the game.
That threat was nothing compared to what Litaker encountered in the seventh inning.
Preston Troutman issued a walk to load the bases, and another free pass tied the game. Litaker entered with cleanup hitter Cory Welch at the plate.
“Not too often do you get bases loaded and no outs and come out of it without getting scratched up a little bit,” said Gobbel, the third of five Rowan pitchers. “You go in and throw strikes and you’re going to get some outs.”
Welch popped up to second base and Erik Van Meetren hit a slow roller to first baseman Trey Holmes, who fired home to catcher Austin Shull for the force.
Neil Lawhorn sent a lazy flyball to Crucitti in center field.
“It was unbelievable,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “I don’t know how he did it because I was as nervous as you could be. He got the pop-up and then went to work. Just outstanding. He just had a different look in his eye when he came to the mound.”
Rowan’s first loss of the double-elimination event resulted from a bloop hit to the outfield with two away in the bottom half of the final inning.
Troutman nearly worked out of bases-loaded, no-out trouble in that game, but the two-run single gave Festus a 6-5 win.
“I’m not taking any flyballs for granted anymore after what’s happened this whole tournament,” Litaker said. “Everything’s been crazy.”
Litaker was one of three effective relievers for Rowan. Laws pitched well for 21/3 innings, and Gobbel opened a perfect sixth with a strikeout.
Laws replaced starter Nick Smith in the third inning, and Crucitti’s two-run homer to right at Newman Outdoor Field cut Southern Nevada’s lead in half.
“You need a spark, a great defensive play, need big pitches from your pitcher, just something,” Crucitti said. “That was the little bit that we needed. I put a few on the warning track here with the wind blowing in, so the wind turning the other direction, I felt pretty good about its chances.”
Rowan pulled even in the fifth inning on a sacrifice fly by Zach Smith and single by Noah Holmes, but Laws gave up a tough-luck run in the bottom of the fifth.
Rowan established a 6-5 edge with a two-run sixth. Shull scored on Smith’s check-swing groundout, and both Holmes brothers were aboard for a double steal. Trey Holmes reached third and continued toward home when the catcher’s throw to second bounced away.
Rowan survived more tense moments and improved to 7-0 when a loss would end the season. It has held the lead or been tied in the final inning of its three defeats since the start of the state tournament.
“We have a chance in every one of them, so most of our games are going to be heartbreakers if we lose,” Gantt said. “It’s got to be a heartbreaker if you have a chance, and we’ve had a chance in all of our losses this year.”
NOTES: Gantt said Billy Veal will be Rowan’s starting pitcher today. Gametime will depend on the result of this morning’s matchup between Midland and Texarkana (Texas). Medford (Ore.) is the fourth team still alive, and it’s already lost to Midland. Rematches are avoided if possible, so Rowan will likely play in the afternoon if Texarkana wins this morning and in the nightcap if Midland remains unbeaten. … Southern Nevada, which is basically an extension of the Bishop Gorman High School program that finished first in Baseball America’s final prep poll, competed this weekend without Louisville Slugger National Player of the Year Jeff Malm. A fifth-round draft pick, he agreed to terms with the Tampa Bay Rays one day before the start of the World Series. … Manthei is one of three players on the Las Vegas team headed to Arizona.