Prep Baseball: Lake Norman 6, East Rowan 2

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 23, 2011

By Mike London
GRANITE QUARRY — It was a wild Wednesday for East Rowan at Staton Field.
Not wild in the lions, tigers and bears sense, but wild in terms of fastballs, changeups and curveballs missing a challenging strike zone.
East hurlers walked eight Lake Norman hitters, and five of those free passes were stacked in a four-run top of the second that propelled the Wildcats to a 6-2 victory.
“It’s not like we tore it up with the bats,” Lake Norman coach Robert Little admitted. “But we took advantage of the walks, and you’d better take advantage if you’re going to beat East Rowan.”
Both teams are 7-2.
“I’m disappointed, but not overly frustrated,” East coach Brian Hightower said. “We walked too many and we didn’t hit much, but we lost to a really good team. You could tell just from watching them take infield, that’s one heck of a team. They’ll beat a lot of people.”
Lake Norman had the advantage in the pitching matchup, with its Appalachian-bound southpaw Taylor Thurber (4-0) starting on the mound, and young lefty Josh Stiers, a future ace, zipping through the last two innings against an East team known for amazing comebacks.
Hightower planned to pitch “staff” in the non-conference game and employed four hurlers. Avery Rogers, usually the third baseman, opened on the hill and took the loss.
“We were able to throw our two best,” Little said. “And I know Brian didn’t throw his best. Still, you beat East Rowan at their place in a great atmosphere, and it’s a really good win. I love playing over here because you know Brian will have his guys coached up and you know they’re going to compete for 21 outs.”
East has drifted into a team hitting slump. Andy Austin and Nathan Fulbright were so hot early in the season that it disguised the fact that some spots in the lineup were struggling, but no one is sizzling right now. The Mustangs are 14-for-75 (.187) as a team in their last three outings.
“We shuffled the lineup some, gave different guys some shots down at the bottom tonight,” Hightower said. “We’re just looking for someone to produce.”
East wasn’t very lucky against the Wildcats. Will Sapp, Justin Morris and Luke Thomas all smacked lineouts directly at outfielders. Thomas also smoked one off the shoe of LN second baseman Jesse Seaford, who calmly plucked the ball from the air and threw him out at first base.
East got its two runs against Thurber in the first. Sapp singled, advanced on Morris’ groundout and scored on Thomas’ RBI single up the
After Austin got an infield hit, Thomas scored on an errant pickoff throw for a 2-0 lead.
“I started out rough,” said Thurber, who had the added pressure of an Appalachian State coach sitting behind the plate with a radar gun. “The umpire was squeezing a little bit early, but I got stronger as the game went along.”
Lake Norman’s four-run second was an adventure. Rogers didn’t get some close pitches, and he wound up walking four and wild-pitching home two runs. He also gave up two singles, including a hit by Thurber that gave the Wildcats a 3-2 lead.
Alex Bost relieved Rogers with the bases full and walked home the fourth run before he could get the third out.
Jared Mathis, East’s third hurler, didn’t get hurt by walks, but the Wildcats bunched three singles and a sac fly against him in the fourth to bump the lead to 6-2.
Curtis Ward pitched the last two innings for the Mustangs and looked great.
“Definitely a positive,” Hightower said. “He was throwing 10 mph faster than the last time he went out there. Coach (Brian) Hatley has changed his delivery.”
East was limited to two singles after the first inning, and the game ended on a fine, sliding catch in right field by Thurber on a ball off Sapp’s bat
“It got up there in the lights on me,” Thurber said. “Then I had to dive.”