Litaker, Laws and Gobbel offered relief against Southern Nevada
By Bret Strelow
FARGO, N.D. ó Alex Litaker steers clear of Rowan County fan Jenny Fox before games.
Rowan lost the last time Litaker hugged her prior to the first pitch.
The embrace occurs after a win, and a smiling Fox was waiting with open arms as Litaker walked up a Newman Outdoor Field aisle Sunday night.
Litaker, with help from Cody Laws and Parker Gobbel, provided welcomed relief in Rowan’s 8-7 victory against defending national champion Southern Nevada at the American Legion World Series.
Litaker escaped a bases-loaded, no-out mess with the score tied in the bottom of the seventh and final scheduled inning. He returned to the mound in the eighth, earned his third win of the season and shared a postgame hug with Fox.
“Our starting pitching was the story of the regional, and all of our starting pitchers have done a heck of a job,” Litaker said. “This tournament, our starters are doing a good job and relief pitching is doing a good job.”
Litaker, Laws and Gobbel are rarely called upon to start for Rowan, which tossed three shutouts at the Southeast Regional. It lost 6-5 in its World Series opener against Festus (Mo.) on Saturday morning.
Forrest Buchanan threw a complete game Saturday night, and coach Jim Gantt used five pitchers apiece during his team’s other two weekend games in Fargo.
Litaker, Laws and Gobbel form a fun-loving group along with part-time starter Nick Smith.
“We call ourselves ‘Da Pen,’ ” Laws said with a laugh. “We’re real close. No matter what inning we go out there, we’re always out there together. We’ve bonded close since we’re out there together.”
Laws checked into the Southern Nevada game with Rowan trailing 4-0 in the third inning. He induced a groundout, then pitched a perfect fourth.
He allowed a fifth-inning run only because left fielder Russell Michalec’s feet slipped out from underneath him as he prepared to catch a flyball. The result was a one-out double for Joey Rickard, who scored on a sacrifice fly.
“Cody Laws isn’t going to get the credit he deserves in the box score, but he was a huge difference in that game,” Gantt said.
Rowan jumped ahead 6-5 in the top half of the sixth inning, and Gobbel entered for the bottom half.
He struck out Neil Lawhorn and induced a pair of flyouts.
“I got real good and loose in the bullpen,” Gobbel said. “I was actually feeling the best I have in a while. I went in there and had to pound the strike zone.
“I was relating back to our banquet where Rick Helling was in there and was talking that you have to believe. It doesn’t matter if you throw 90, 88 or 84. You have to believe you can get people out.”
Gobbel stayed in for the seventh but nicked leadoff batter Kenny Meimerstorf with a 1-2 pitch. Preston Troutman moved to the mound but struggled with his control. The third batter he faced drew a bases-loaded walk to tie the game, and Litaker came in from the bullpen.
Cleanup hitter Cory Welch popped up to second baseman Philip Miclat for the first out.
“I knew the first guy was going to be the toughest,” Litaker said. “If I can get one out on a strikeout or a flyball or something harmless, you can always get somebody to roll over a groundball.”
Erik Van Meetren dribbled a grounder to first baseman Trey Holmes, who threw home for the forceout.
Lawhorn then flied out to center fielder Jon Crucitti.
“You can’t say enough about what Alex Litaker came in and did,” Crucitti said. “To be thrown into that jam, and he’s definitely not a power pitcher by any stretch. He just came in and threw the ball around the zone and got people out.”
Litaker responded to a leadoff error in the eighth by recording a strikeout ó his 12th in 25-plus innings. He threw 15 strikes in a 23-pitch outing.
A groundout and lineout ended the game, assuring Rowan of no worse than a fourth-place finish.
Salisbury won its first game at the 1955 World Series but dropped the next two, and Rowan followed two victories at the 1996 World Series with two losses.
This team is the program’s first to come back from a loss to win once, much less twice.
“It was big because it was an elimination game and they are the defending national champions,” Gantt said. “It lets you know when we lose games a lot of times it’s about us playing against ourselves because we can play with anybody.”