Baseball: East Rowan 3, South Rowan 1
By Mike London
LANDIS — East Rowan junior Bradley Robbins struck out 13 unlucky batters for the second straight start.
Yet, Tuesday’s 3-1 NPC win at South Rowan wasn’t all that similar to Robbins’ 6-0 decision against West Rowan in his previous outing.
“This one was completely different,” Robbins said. “More confidence. I went into this one with my head held high.”
Confidence is worth a million dollars. Against West, Robbins thought he could get it done. Against South, he knew he would. He walked five Falcons. Against the Raiders, he issued one free pass, and he threw fewer than 100 pitches in six overpowering, overwhelming innings.
“That’s three games in a row, that Robbins has been really good,” East center fielder Will Sapp. “When a guy is throwing strikes like he was tonight, you like playing defense behind him.”
In his last three starts, Robbins has fanned 34 and allowed one run.
East (9-2, 5-0) played one of its sharper games — and needed it.
“I’m not displeased at all,” East coach Brian Hightower said. “We got great pitching, and Sapp made one heck of a catch in right-center look easy because he’s so good. Our offense will come.”
South (6-5, 4-2) was crisp in the field and clutch on the mound. South hurlers Matt Miller and Daniel Mullis couldn’t challenge Robbins’ velocity, but they made big pitches at key moments.
“Robbins threw a heck of a game — he could locate his fastball, and he hit that outside corner all night long,” said South catcher Eric Tyler. “But our pitchers kept us in it. That’s all you can ask.”
South could have tied East for first place by winning. Instead, the Raiders dropped into a three-way tie for second with West Iredell and Carson.
“Robbins attacked our hitters, filled up the (strike) zone, and East played its usual solid game,” South coach Thad Chrismon said. “We played solid defensively, and our pitchers did a great job. This was very reminiscent of a playoff game, and we were in it. We had a chance, so this shouldn’t be a devastating loss. This should make us better.”
Three of Miller’s five walks were issued in the top of the first, and East got a run when Ashton Fleming — who was down in the count 0-2 — drew a walk with the bases full.
South tied it in the bottom half when Tyler singled on a groundball up the middle, moved to second when Preston Penninger walked, and scored on Miller’s soft single to center.
“They got a couple of early hits off breaking balls, Hightower said. “After that, it was mostly fastball after fastball, and Robbins was great tonight. The best I’ve ever seen him.”
In the second, Sapp, starting to snap a slump, crushed a two-out triple to drive home Jared Mathis, and the Mustangs took a 2-1 lead.
“There were a lot of times when we took Miller’s fastballs and chased curveballs,” Sapp said. “But I was sitting fastball on that pitch.”
Robbins dominated after the first, and the Mustangs had a chance to blow it open in the fifth when Luke Thomas and Andy Austin started the inning with singles. That’s when Chrismon turned to Mullis to relieve Miller.
It appeared a possible bunting situation for Nathan Fulbright, but he drove a run-scoring single to right field. Courtesy runner Evan Hiatt roared home from second for a 3-1 lead.
Mullis did a terrific job getting out of that inning with a strikeout and a groundball that second baseman Parker Hubbard turned into a double play, but South never seriously threatened Robbins.
Will Johnson (0.00 ERA) pitched the seventh and struck out three straight to keep the Mustangs alone on top in the league.
“South’s pitchers were good, but this was a big game, with the stakes way up there,” Fulbright said. “We came into it with our heads screwed on right, and we played one of our best.”