Legion World Series: Midland 15, Rowan 14
By Bret Strelow
FARGO, N.D. ó Rowan County baserunner Austin Shull acknowledged the final out by decelerating near home, removing his helmet and standing with two feet on the plate for several seconds.
An incredible run nearly continued with an improbable rally, but Rowan’s season ended with a 15-14 loss against unbeaten Midland (Mich.) at the American Legion World Series on Monday night.
Rowan trailed 12-0 heading to the bottom of the sixth inning and made a spirited comeback before falling short. It finished third in the nation, and Midland will face Medford (Ore.) for the title on the last day of the double-elimination event.
“It hurts that we were so close, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” veteran first baseman Trey Holmes said. “This was the best game I’ve ever been involved in ó we just didn’t quit ó and this is the best team I’ve ever been involved with.”
Rowan won its first state tournament title since 2002 and reached the World Series for the first time since 1996.
It dropped its opening game at Newman Outdoor Field in heartbreaking fashion and bounced back to collect two wins, including an extra-inning triumph over defending national champion Southern Nevada.
World Series broadcaster Luis Gonzalez anticipated a late-inning push from Rowan, and members of the grounds crew sported rally caps as Midland’s lead dwindled.
“There’s a lot of pride involved in today’s game,” center fielder Jon Crucitti said. “I think Russell Michalec came up and said to me how embarrassing it would be not only for us but for our fans to be the first team in this tournament to be 10-runned. That really hit home.
“For us to fight back like that, you can’t hang your head. You can go back to Rowan County with your head high.”
An eight-run sixth and five-run seventh drew Rowan within 15-13, and Corbin Shive was hit by a pitch to begin the bottom half of the ninth inning. Casey Little ran for Shive and moved to second on Shull’s one-out walk.
Midland reliever Ken Babinski forced a pop-up to second base, and Holmes delivered an RBI single. With Shull on second and Holmes on first, Michalec flied out to center field.
Some Rowan players, partly amused by Forrest Buchanan’s smooth behavior toward a nearby member of the opposite sex, managed to smile during the postgame medals ceremony.
“You can’t be sad with third place in the nation,” second baseman Philip Miclat said. “It just didn’t happen for us. We blew it in the beginning.
“You can’t win it in the beginning, but you definitely can blow it. We came back, and I was proud of the way we fought back.”
Midland jumped on Rowan right from the outset, scoring two runs in the top of the first inning against starting pitcher Billy Veal.
Midland posted five runs apiece in the third and fourth innings, but only four of the 10 were earned.
Gonzalez, assisting with a webcast of the game, predicted an eight-run outburst from Rowan and had evidence to prove it.
He proudly displayed a yellow piece of paper featuring the message, “Here comes a snowman.”
Rowan coach Jim Gantt offered one good-natured critique of Gonzalez, whose ninth-inning bloop single in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series completed a two-run rally against New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.
“I wish he would have written it down one more time,” Gantt said.
The first eight Rowan batters reached base in the sixth inning.
Troutman and Holmes scored on a two-run single by Michalec, who crossed home following a Noah Holmes single.
Crucitti’s single drove in Zach Smith, and Shive recorded an RBI single. Miclat walked to load the bases and chase starting pitcher Kenton San Miguel.
“When you’re down 12-0, you start to joke about things,” Miclat said. “We started getting hits and were thinking this would be the craziest comeback in the history of the World Series. Then it started to turn into reality a little bit, and we just started rolling with it.”
Crucitti came home on a double-play ball off reliever Nate Kuehne, who then allowed RBI singles to Troutman and Trey Holmes.
Midland scored three runs (one earned) in the top of the seventh against Rowan reliever Alex Litaker, who shut out the Great Lakes Regional champions in his other four innings of work.
“I was kind of stiff and didn’t have my good stuff,” said Litaker, the pitching hero against Southern Nevada a day earlier. “I didn’t have what I had (Sunday) night at least, so I just threw it up there and let them hit it and let my defense work for me.”
Rowan’s half of the seventh inning, just like the sixth, started with a hit batsman. A pair of walks loaded the bases with one out, and Smith scored on a fielder’s choice.
Shull hit a two-run single, Troutman had an RBI triple and Trey Holmes drilled a run-scoring single with two away.
Babinski’s perfect eighth inning included a 13-pitch battle with Noah Holmes, and Midland survived a wild ninth.
“We played poorly early, and that was the difference in the game,” Gantt said. “We made some bad decisions with some plays, but all that was behind them. They kept putting it behind them and kept looking forward and kept working. We almost did it, and that was pretty fun.”
NOTES: Medford (48-11) must beat Midland (53-8) twice today. Gametimes are 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. EDT. … Medford advanced to the final day of the tournament with a 7-6 win against Texarkana (Texas) on Monday afternoon. Medford scored the tying run on a one-out error in the bottom of the ninth inning, and Zach Earle came home from third on Garrett Tygerson’s two-out single. … Rowan faced Midland in its first game of the 1996 American Legion World Series and won 2-1. Christopher Chandler pitched a complete game, and Robert Cline scored on Justin Wishon’s game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth inning.