Prep Baseball: West Iredell 12, East Rowan 4
By Mike London
GRANITE QUARRY — Nathan Fulbright’s flyball died in front of the left-field bank, and West Iredell beat East Rowan in baseball for the first time since they became NPC foes.
The second-place Warriors pounded the Mustangs 12-4 at Staton Field to end a seven-game losing streak in the series, and there wasn’t anything fluky about it.
On Friday, West Iredell was the superior club, pitching it, fielding it and hitting it better than East (9-3, 5-1) did. East is still alone in first place, but it’s a race now.
“I’m tickled with how we played and Sam Laws pitched extremely well for five innings,” WI coach Randy Martin said. “It’s big to beat East here because of who they are and because of how good a coach Brian Hightower is.”
When West Iredell ( 6-4, 5-2) lost 10-2 to South Rowan on March 18, the Warriors’ obituary was written by many, but Martin’s team improved its approach at the plate and Laws got mechanical issues fixed.
Laws dominated the first three innings. He got six groundball outs before striking out the side in the third.
East managed only four hits, including solid doubles by Will Sapp and Andy Austin, but the Mustangs have won
with four hits before. The problem was ineffective pitching and shaky defense.
“It was a very tough night for us,” said Austin, East’s slugging junior first baseman. “You’ve got to make the routine plays to win. We didn’t do that.”
West Iredell won despite a top of the first that could’ve been deflating. The Warriors squandered three hits and a walk, failing to score when Travis Fetter (three hits, three runs) left third base early on a sure sacrifice fly.
But Laws didn’t let his team think negatively. He handled East’s top hitters in the bottom of the first, and the Warriors took over the game with a mind-boggling, seven-run second in which East temporarily disintegrated. The runs came against starting pitcher Jared Mathis and reliever Alex Bost, who has been East’s No. 2 starter.
“Bost has been struggling with his control, so we went with Mathis,” Hightower said. “But it seems like every move we make isn’t working out very well right now.”
It was a brutal top of the second. WI had three consecutive hits. There were also four walks, four wild pitches, a hit batsman and an error.
“East helped us out some there, but we also strung some big hits together,” Martin said. “If you’re going to beat East, you have to do that.”
Austin couldn’t quite make a play on a sharp grounder through the right side, and Sapp couldn’t quite make a spectacular catch in center field, and suddenly the Mustangs were in a major mess.
Bost had a chance to limit the damage when he induced a comebacker that should’ve been a routine 1-2-3 double play. Instead, it was an E-1, and the inning got out of hand. And a 7-0 hole, the way Laws was throwing, was deep.
“Get down that much, and you’ve got to bite back a little bit at a time,” Austin said. “But we were trying to get it all back with one swing. With Laws, you have to hit his fastball, and he was getting outs with his slower stuff.”
Laws, a right-hander being recruited by Catawba and Mars Hill, had an effective curve and a darting slider.
“I feel like my pitching is back to normal and I came over here with a whole lot of confidence because of the way we’ve been hitting the ball lately,” Laws said.
Fulbright’s RBI single in the fourth got East on the board, but the Warriors answered with three more runs.
Justin Morris and Austin drove in runs in East’s three-run fifth. It was close to being a monster inning, but a baserunning mistake hurt, and Ashton Fleming grounded sharply back to Laws to end the inning with the bases loaded.
Reliever Sean Grant took care of East in the sixth and seventh, and it was all over.
West Iredell reacted to the upset with surprising calm. No wild celebrations, just handshakes. They looked like a team that expected to win.
Meanwhile, the Mustangs will practice today at 9 a.m.
“Some guys haven’t stepped up, and we’re just not a very good team right now,” Hightower said quietly. “We need to get better.”