Peeler Championship: North Rowan 14, Lake Norman 13
By David Shaw
SALISBURY — It’s a good thing style points didn’t count in Monday’s Cliff Peeler Classic third-place game.
North Rowan used six pitchers who yielded 15 hits, including eight for extra bases. Lake Norman commintted eight errors and played defense like it was a way of killing time between at-bats.
In the end a four-run rally in the top of the seventh inning gave North an unsightly 14-13 victory.
“We don’t play pretty games,” winning coach Aaron Rimer chuckled after the Cavs improved to 16-5. “It’s not allowed at North Rowan. As much as I’d want it to, we don’t allow pretty on the ballfield.”
Lake Norman coach Robert little was thoroughly disgusted after the Wildcats (17-6) — pre-tournament contenders to win it all — suffered their third loss in four games.
“I’m very disappointed,” he said. “This was embarrassing how we fielded. If you told me we were going to score 10 runs, I would have said we’d win the game.”
Instead, nine of North’s runs were unearned. The game-winning hit was delivered by junior Jake Smith, who lined a two-out, two-run single that sprawling LN center-fielder Mike Knight couldn’t grab. When relief pitcher Dakota Brown retired the Wildcats in the last of the seventh, North had wiped out a 9-2 deficit and won a game it probably shouldn’t have.
“We’re gonna get down. We’re gonna make mistakes,” said North’s Matt Mauldin. “It doesn’t matter how far we’re behind. We know we can never give up.”
Rimer, the first-year coach, was kicked out of the game for arguing with an umpire while the Cavs were batting in the top of the sixth. His pointed outburst seemed to spark NR, which scored seven runs in the final two innings.
“I hate to fire a team up like that,” said Rimer, who wasn’t sure if he was ejected or disqualified. “But sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I just wanted them to know how big that moment was.”
North still trailed 13-10 when it came to bat in the top of the seventh. Mauldin, who went 3-for-5 with three RBIs, dumped a run-scoring single into shallow left field to spark the comeback. Then catcher Alex Morgan’s bad-hop single loaded the bases with one out. After retiring Matt Laurens on a popup, losing pitcher Alex Cagide uncorked a two-out wild pitch and Wesley Barker raced home to make it 13-12.
“Our approach that inning was to just be patient,” said Morgan (3-for-5, 2 RBIs). “Hit the ball hard and if you can’t, try to work out a walk.”
Smith was next and he whipped a sinking liner that Knight nearly scooped out of the air while diving in medium left-center field. The ball trickled to his side as Mauldin and Morgan charged across the plate.
“We really weren’t hitting the ball very well in the beginning,” Mauldin said, a reference to Lake Norman starting pitcher Taylor Thurber’s effectiveness. “But the way they kept messing up gave us a spark. It was like, ‘Don’t strike out. Just put it in play and maybe they’ll make a mistake.”
Morgan added, “He threw a lot of strikes, but after a while we just hit him.”
Their reward was an unexpected third-place finish in the tourney. “It feels good,” Mauldin said. “We’re a 1A school and look what we did to them.”
NOTES: Knight was 3-for-4 with a fourth-inning homer, two doubles and four RBIs. Teammate Joey McAlpin rattled three doubles. … North’s Barker scored five runs. Mauldin went 5-for-8 and knocked in six runs in the tournament. … North celebrates Senior Night tonight when it hosts YVC foe Chatham Central.