Strelow column: Month-long run full of memories

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 22, 2009

The last month included 16 memorable games involving Rowan County’s American Legion baseball team, and contributions from all 18 players produced a third-place finish at the World Series.
Every team member has something to take away from a wild run that gained momentum with victories against Shelby in the state championship game and Tuscaloosa (Ala.) in the Southeast Regional final.
Below is a list of Rowan’s players, ordered alphabetically, and the moments I think about when hearing their names attached to contests in Greenville, Sumter, S.C., or Fargo, N.D.
Fittingly, the rundown begins with an unblemished starter and ends with a clutch closer.
Forrest Buchanan, P
Buchanan managed to crack up his teammates and even coach Jim Gantt with a debonair display of charm during the medals ceremony that followed Rowan’s season-ending, 15-14 loss to Midland (Mich.).
Buchanan allowed one hit apiece in 52/3 innings against Mooresville at the state tournament and six innings against Irmo-Chapin (S.C.) at the regional. With a win against Mt. Airy (Md.) at the World Series, he improved to 10-0.
Tim Kirk (10-0 in 1982) and Dickie Myers (10-0 in 1971) are the only other Rowan pitchers to compile double-digit victories without suffering a loss.
Jon Crucitti, CF
Crucitti’s three-run homer gave Rowan breathing room in the eighth inning of a 6-2 victory against Cherryville on Day 2 of the state tournament.
His two-out RBI single in the top of the ninth inning generated the only run in Rowan’s 1-0 victory against tournament host Sumter in a regional opener. Four days later, in the championship game against Tuscaloosa, Crucitti made a diving catch in the left-center gap to preserve a seventh-inning tie.
Crucitti hit a tiebreaking sacrifice fly in the ninth inning of a 6-5 loss to Festus (Mo.) in the World Series debut for Rowan, which trailed 4-0 against defending national champion Southern Nevada before he drilled a two-run homer. His extra-inning double drove in what turned out to be the deciding run in an 8-7 victory.
Ethan Fisher, 2B
With Preston Troutman pitching and Philip Miclat sliding over to shortstop, Fisher started at second base in a pair of championship-clinching victories.
He made the turn on an important double play in the eighth inning of a comeback win against Wilmington at the state tournament.
Parker Gobbel, P
Gobbel posted victories pitching in relief against Duplin County and Wilmington at the state tournament. He threw a perfect sixth inning in the tense win against Southern Nevada.
Noah Holmes, 3B
Holmes had a 10-for-14 stretch at the plate during the state tournament, and he hit a three-run homer in the first inning of a mercy-rule win against Irmo-Chapin.
Holmes bounced back from a rough outing against Mt. Airy with a 4-for-4 performance against Southern Nevada. His RBI single in the first extra inning broke a 6-all tie.
Trey Holmes, 1B
Holmes had a grand slam and three-run homer in the first five innings of Rowan’s state tournament opener. He also accounted for the final hit and RBI in the team’s unforgettable postseason march.
Named the MVP of the state and regional events, he was selected as the first baseman on the World Series all-tournament team.
Holmes singled to begin the ninth inning of Rowan’s first win against Sumter, and a three-run homer broke open a tight game in the second meeting. His glovework on a one-hopped throw completed a critical double play that prevented Tuscaloosa from taking the lead in the sixth inning of the regional final.
Holmes finished with a flurry, going 4-for-4 at the plate in the last four innings of his Legion career.
Cody Laws, P
Laws earned saves against Cherryville and Mooresville on consecutive nights at the state tournament, and his relief effort against Southern Nevada kept Rowan in the game.
He pitched 21/3 innings and gave Rowan time to erase a 4-0 deficit.
Alex Litaker, P
Litaker went from seldom-used reliever to long-standing hero in the span of 23 pitches against Southern Nevada.
The tying run already had crossed home when Litaker inherited a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the Titans’ final at-bat. One run would have ended Rowan’s season, but Litaker first induced a pop-up to second base.
A force was recorded at home on a fielder’s choice, and a flyout to center followed. Litaker pitched the eighth inning and picked up his third win of the summer.
He tossed five innings of strong relief while Rowan made a late rally from a 12-0 deficit in its final game.
Casey Little, OF-PH
Little delivered a walkoff homer in Rowan’s state tournament rout of Duplin, and he played an important role against Wilmington.
Little’s pinch-hit double tied the game in the bottom of the ninth inning, and he scored the winning run on Crucitti’s bases-loaded walk.
Russell Michalec, LF
Prior to the Southern Nevada game, Michalec was recognized as the Region III scholarship winner. The $1,000 award was based on academic achievement, character and community service.
Michalec set an example with his steady play, leading Rowan in two notable categories at the World Series: hits (eight) and runs scored (seven). He had two hits in each of Rowan’s four games.
After Shelby broke a ninth-inning tie in the first of two games on the final day of the state tournament, Michalec drew a one-out walk in the first inning of the rematch. He scored on Zach Smith’s double to give Rowan a momentum-swinging lead.
Trey Holmes and Crucitti had the ninth-inning hits in Rowan’s shutout of Sumter, but Michalec’s sacrifice bunt moved Holmes into scoring position.
Philip Miclat, 2B
Miclat slid in with the game-tying run during the ninth-inning rally against Wilmington, and a bases-loaded balk sent him home with the go-ahead run late in the regional final.
Miclat made several tough plays in the field at the World Series. Mt. Airy was behind 6-3 with the bases loaded and two away in the fifth of seven scheduled innings when Miclat sprinted back from his spot at second to track down a blooper in shallow center. He fell to the ground while making an over-the-shoulder grab that stopped Mt. Airy from scoring at least two more runs in the inning.
Miclat had five putouts and four assists in that abbreviated victory, and he contributed to the final two outs a day later. He fielded a grounder and threw to first with two runners aboard in the last inning against Southern Nevada, then caught a looping line drive.
Matt Miller, C
Rowan and Sumter were tied in the sixth inning of their elimination game on the final day of the regional when Miller drew a go-ahead walk with the bases loaded.
Miller fell behind 0-2 against stingy left-hander Jordan Montgomery but came out on top in the seven-pitch at-bat. Rowan scored five more times in the inning.
Corbin Shive, P
Shive, who finished the season with an 8-0 pitching record, handed Sumter both of its regional losses in front of partisan crowds at Riley Park.
Shive had a one-hitter going with two away in the ninth inning of the 1-0 win on opening night and ended up with a three-hit shutout. He allowed two earned runs over eight innings in the rematch.
Austin Shull, C
Shull hit a game-tying double and scored the go-ahead run against Cherryville at the state tournament.
Shull’s two-strike sacrifice put Rowan in position to take a late lead in the regional final, and his diving catch on a quirky pop-up in front of the plate ended the game in memorable fashion.
Shull caught a ceremonial first pitch from 90-year-old legend Bob Feller before the World Series win against Mt. Airy.
Nick Smith, P
Pitching was a major factor at the regional, and Smith was the starter during Rowan’s third shutout in four days.
He gave up three hits and struck out six batters in six innings as Rowan reached the final day of competition with a 13-0 victory against Conyers (Ga.).
Zach Smith, RF
Smith’s first-inning double put Rowan in front for good in the state tournament finale against Shelby.
Tuscaloosa’s ninth-inning rally on Day 2 of the regional ruined a special moment for Smith, who had smashed a go-ahead, three-run homer in the top half of the ninth. He capped the World Series win against Mt. Airy with a two-run homer.
Smith started the extra-inning push against Southern Nevada with a two-out single. The catcher’s throw hit Smith’s right wrist on a successful steal of second, and Smith injured his left hand with a head-first slide into home on Noah Holmes’ go-ahead single.
Counting the regional and World Series, Smith hit a team-leading .425.
Preston Troutman, SS-P
Troutman, normally the shortstop, was the starting pitcher in both of Rowan’s championship-clinching wins.
He earned his first Legion victory by allowing only two runs in 51/3 innings against Shelby in the state final.
Billy Veal, P
Veal was a strong candidate for MVP honors at the state and regional tournaments. He was on the mound to close out wins against Shelby and Tuscaloosa.
He pitched into the ninth inning against Cherryville in late July and picked up the save by allowing one run over 32/3 innings against Shelby.
Veal earned the win against Tuscaloosa by throwing 51/3 innings of scoreless relief.