Prep baseball: NW Cabarrus 8, East Rowan 6
By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS ó East Rowan coach Brian Hightower loves the game so much heíd vote to play daily tripleheaders, but Friday nightís events left him with a baseball-induced headache.
Eastís reign as the top-ranked 3A team will be short-lived after a wild 8-6 loss at Northwest Cabarrus. The Trojans, who got a monstrous grand slam from Weston Smith, scored all their runs in one brutal inning in which the Mustangs, who had won 14 in a row dating back to 2010, uncharacteristically melted down for 30 minutes.
ěWeíve gotta play better defense to win a ballgame like that,î said East first baseman Andy Austin, who hit a two-run homer. ěWe make a few plays, and itís a different game ó but thatís baseball.î
The worst news for East was that center fielder Will Sapp, MVP of last yearís 3A state tournament, was injured when he collided with shortstop Justin Morris while trying to snag a flyball. Morris appeared to be OK, but Sapp took a shot to the jaw and was transported to the hospital to determine the extent of his injury.
ěItís tough to play without Sapp ó we really need him,î Hightower said. ěI just really hate losing, and weíve got to put in an awful lot of work to get better. Yeah, itís early, but we walked way too many.î
Those with sharp memories will recall Northwest handing East one of the two losses it suffered last season as it marched to a state championship, but no one really expected this upset. Not after the Trojans lost 2-1 to unheralded South Rowan 24 hours before they entertained the Mustangs.
ěWe left 11 men on base against South and couldnít get a big hit,î Northwest coach Joe Hubbard said. ěBut we had those same guys up there tonight, and this time they came through. Itís just a huge win for us confidence-wise.î
East (1-1) wasnít far from blowing it open early. The Mustangs had a 2-0 lead and had the bases loaded in the third inning, looking for more, when Wesley LeRoy scalded a hot grounder at Northwest second baseman Tanner Bigham. Bigham knocked the ball down, got LeRoy by a half-step at first and kept the Trojans in it.
Then things fell apart without warning for East starting pitcher Alex Bost in the bottom half of the third. Bost looked good for two innings, and he got two quick outs in the third. But then he lost the strike zone and walked five straight men. Hightower had to go to the bullpen after Bost walked Michael Mariano on a 3-2 pitch to tie the game at 2-2.
Curtis Ward relieved Bost. Smith, a powerful slugger with an NFL body, was the first to face Ward, and he launched his game-changing grand slam ó a laser beam to dead center.
ěWhen a new pitcher comes in, theyíre usually looking to start you off with a fastball,î Smith said. ěHe threw what I was looking for.î
Kyle Rohan followed Smithís prodigious homer with a drive to deep right-center. It carried to the wall, but it was a ball Sapp catches 95 percent of the time. This one glanced off his glove and over the fence.
That made it 7-2, and Sapp pounded the fence in disgust.
Landon Hubbard then lifted a high pop into into short left field. Sapp, eager to make up for his near-miss on Rohanís homer, arrived like a rocket, and a collision resulted.
Sapp stayed down for a while, woozy and dizzy, but he left under his own power.
Hubbard hustled all the way to third on the play and scored on a wild pitch to make it 8-2.
ěI tried to tell my guys not to be satisfied with eight, that East would fight to the last pitch,î Coach Hubbard said.
Thatís exactly what happened. Hits by Morris and Luke Thomas cut the deficit to 8-3 in the fifth. Next, Austin, a lefty slugger, hammered his two-run homer to left-center against NWCís Davidson-bound southpaw Rob Bain.
ěBain got behind and had to come in with a pitch that flattened out,î Austin said. ěI hit it good.î
Smith relieved Bain for the sixth and looked totally dominant, but the Mustangs tried to rally in the seventh.
They loaded the bases with none out on two walks and a hit batsman. Smith fanned LeRoy, but Ashton Flemingís sharp single made it 8-6 and reloaded the bases for Avery Rogers.
Rogers just missed tying the game with a poke down the right-field line before Smith fired a fastball that Rogers smacked hard to the right side.
Bigham gloved it to start a game-ending DP, and shortstop Corey Seager turned it.
ěI think everyone in the stadium knew I was going to throw him a fastball there,î Smith said. ěIt was a great time for a double play.î
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