Prep Baseball: East Rowan 15, North Iredell 5
By Mike London
GRANITE QUARRY — North Iredell’s baseball program earned a measure of respect, and East Rowan earned another NPC win despite playing well below coach Brian Hightower’s lofty expectations.
First-place East beat the Raiders 15-5 in five innings at Staton Field on Friday, but there were some anxious moments for the Mustangs, who found themselves in a 4-4 tie before they put together an eight-run third inning.
“North Iredell’s decent,” said East Rowan third baseman Avery Rogers who went 3-for-3, knocked in three runs and also contributed a spectacular defensive gem. “We’ve been walking on them a long time, but they showed us something tonight in the jayvee game as well as the varsity game.”
North Iredell’s first-year coach Denny Key was slightly horrified that his hurlers served up 140 pitches in the 10-run rule game, but he felt pretty good about the way his guys swung the bats.
Josh Sharpe ripped two doubles, Zack Davis drove in a run all three times he stepped to the plate, and Josh Speight was 2-for-2 and executed on a sacrifice bunt.
“We did have some quality at-bats,” Key said. “I’ve just got to keep reminding myself that I’ve got a bunch of 15-year-olds. We’ve got to get our pitching reined, but we did come here and battle.”
A subdued Hightower sounded like the losing coach, not a guy who watched his team improve to 4-0 in the NPC and 8-2 overall.
“We’ve had a bad week, and it’s odd,” he said. “We’ve had good practices, but we’re not doing the little things well at all right now. There’s been no electricity in the crowd the last two games, but that’s our fault. We’re not playing well enough to get anyone excited.”
East starting pitcher Alex Bost won his county-leading fourth game and struck out seven, but it was a rocky ride. In four innings, he walked five and he allowed six hits.
Only a leaping catch by shortstop Justin Morris kept North Iredell (3-4, 1-4) off the scoreboard in the first, and the Raiders left the bases full in the second. Bost got two strikeouts to escape.
“Alex got pitches up in the zone, hitters’ pitches, and it was like they capitalized on every single mistake he made,” East catcher Luke Thomas said. “But then he got dialed in pretty well.”
East’s three-run second gave the Mustangs a 4-1 lead. It was keyed by Morris’ pop-fly, two-run double to left. North Iredell miscommunicated, and the left fielder and shortstop collided.
But North Iredell answered with a three-run third that included a bases-loaded walk to No. 9 hitter Clint Jordan. That made it 4-4, and Hightower looked like he might explode.
East settled it by sending t 12 to the plate in the bottom of the third to score eight. Thomas opened the big inning with a walk and capped it by driving an outside fastball to right-center for a bases-clearing double.
“I think we came out here just going through the motions,” Thomas said. “When they started scoring some runs, it was a wakeup call.”
Andy Austin had a two-run single for East in the fifth and scored the strange run to end the game on a strikeout, on which the third strike eluded the catcher. It was an odd ending to an odd game.
“There hasn’t been a great baseball culture at North Iredell,” Key said. “It’s my job to change that. East Rowan is where we want to be.”
But where East is right now isn’t quite where Hightower wants it to be.
“It’s like we dated Megan Fox, she broke up with us, and now we don’t want to date any other girls,” he said. “We came to play against Carson, but it’s like we don’t care about playing the games that aren’t big. You’ve got to play the regular games too.”