Prep Baseball:North Rowan 10, South Stanly 9
By Mike London
NORWOOD — In a tense seventh inning, a pitch slipped out of North Rowan hurler Dakota Brown’s hand, wobbled crazily through the air, trickled across the third-base foul line and came to rest near the North dugout.
“Hey, that’s a good spot,” North coach Aaron Rimer barked cheerfully.
That small joke broke the tension, and Brown smiled. It was just a ballgame, after all, albeit a ballgame against South Stanly, the first-place team in the YVC.
“There was a lot of pressure just trying to pitch,” Brown said. “That loosened me up a little bit.”
Brown shut out South Stanly in the seventh and eighth innings, and North escaped Norwood with a 10-9 extra inning victory that had to be seen to be believed. Now North’s in a good spot in the YVC standings with a 7-2 league record, right behind South Stanly’s 8-2.
“Both teams had a tough night in the field, and if you don’t make plays you don’t win ballgames,” South Stanly coach Terry Tucker said. “It didn’t help us that we got rained out all last week, but North is an improved team from the first time we played them (a 3-2 South Stanly win opening day in Spencer).”
The Cavaliers out-hit the Rowdy Rebel Bulls 17-4, but still came within an eyelash from losing. Matt Mauldin’s homer in the eighth finally decided it.
“We hit the ball and our pitching was great,” Rimer said. “We made just enough defensive plays to win.”
Along with Mauldin, Tyler Wyatt and Matt Laurens hit their first homers of the season for the Cavaliers (9-2). Landon Fraley belted two homers for the Bulls (9-4). It’s a hitter-friendly park, and the wind was howling out, especially in the early innings.
“When we got here, I knew this would be like playing at Wrigley Field,” Rimer said. “Some balls were going to fly out of here, and it wasn’t going to be easy to catch fly balls. It was like whoever hit the ball the highest was going to win.”
Wyatt had four hits, and Laurens and Alex Morgan had three hits each, as the Cavaliers pounded away. North benefited from dribblers and pop-fly hits — Hunter Feezor skied one that fell untouched in the infield — but it also squared up quite a few balls.
Rimer basically rolled through his pitching staff — Josh Price for an inning, Dusty Agner for three, Laurens for two, and, finally, Brown for the last two.
“That’s not ideal with us playing four games this week, but this was the game we had to have,” Rimer said. “We made mistakes, but they were aggressive mistakes. Our guys wanted to play and they played like they wanted to win.”
North last won a conference championship in baseball in 2006.
Wyatt’s RBI double keyed North’s two-run first. Fraley’s first homer, his fifth of the season, tied it in the third.
Feezor’s pop-up single preceded a two-run shot by Laurens in the fourth, and a soft RBI single to right by Morgan pushed North’s lead to 5-2.
South Stanly’s bottom of the fourth was one for the record books. The Bulls didn’t have a single official at-bat, yet pushed across two runs.
Two walks were followed by a sac bunt that Agner mishandled to load the bases. After that, it was back-to-back sac flies, and a caught stealing to end the inning.
The excitement continued in the fifth. Wyatt’s solo homer and a run-scoring hit by Laurens made it 7-4 Cavs, but North dropped two fly balls in the wind in the bottom of the inning to allow South Stanly right back in the game.
“Stressful,” Mauldin said. “Very stressful game.”
Morgan’s solid RBI double in the sixth scored Wes Barker for an 8-6 lead, but South Stanly got three in the bottom half and grabbed a 9-8 edge — its first lead of the game — on a two-out, two-run rocket to left-center by Fraley. He’d hit his earlier bomb to right-center.
Heath Blackmon, who had caught the first five innings for the Bulls, nearly wrapped up victory on the mound in the seventh, but Brown’s liner to right-center that probably should’ve ended the game appeared to sail right through the right fielder. Jamone Kelly, running for Feezor, who had delivered a one-out infield single, scored from second base to tie the game at 9-9.
“Probably he should’ve caught it,” Brown admitted. “But that wind was crazy.”
So was the game.
Brown, who had contributed a leaping catch at third base to end the South Stanly fifth, came on to pitch the bottom of the seventh, and it was 1-2-3, the only clean inning any pitcher had all night.
Mauldin came to the plate with one out in the NR eighth.
“I went up there kind of mad because I hadn’t been able to get hold of anything all night,” he said. “I made up my mind, I was going to smash it.”
He smashed it — well over the fence in center, and North led one more time. Now it was up to Brown to get three outs.
“Dakota wanted the ball, and when he wants it, there’s no pitcher I’d rather give it to,” Rimer said.
It got interesting after a one-out walk and a bounceout put a runner at second with Fraley coming up. Rimer wisely ordered an intentional walk with a base open. That walk put the winning run on base, but the way Fraley was swinging, it had to be done.
After an unintentional walk filled the bases, Brown ended the game with a strikeout.
“It’s a huge win,” Brown said. “Barely, but we got it.”
North won even with young South Stanly using sophomore ace Russ Weiker (5-0) for four innings. This was big.
“It’s a tough loss, and it was going to be tough for whichever team lost it,” Tucker said. “The good news is we’re still in first place. We’ve just got to keep pushing forward.”