F&M Classic: Mount Pleasant 8, East Rowan 6
By Paul Herhsey
KANNAPOLIS — The East Rowan team that showed up for the first day of the F&M Bank Classic looked like the normal Mustangs early against Mount Pleasant and then again toward the end.
In between that, though, not so much.
Sloppy defense, less than average pitching and a lack of timely hitting put East in a six-run hole and a late comeback bid fell short in an 8-6 loss Wednesday afternoon at Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium.
The Mustangs (15-6) scored four runs in the last two innings and had the tying runs at second and third in the seventh, but a groundout by Chase Hathcock ended it.
The rally attempt didn’t have coach Brian Hightower feeling any better about his team’s performance.
“Anytime you play the game like it really doesn’t matter and then you wake up in the sixth inning and realize you’re down and then you start trying to play it’s a little bit too late,” Hightower said. “We hadn’t played good for a month and it’s pretty disgusting to see kids that have played at the pinnacle of a state championship come out and play flat and play the game like it’s not supposed to be played.”
East manufactured two runs in the first, but then gave them back to Mount Pleasant with three errors – including two dropped flyballs – in the second.
The Tigers (14-6), who finished third in the SPC, then took a 4-2 lead against starter Will Johnson in the third and tacked on four more runs off the East bullpen in the fourth.
“We just didn’t pitch real well, didn’t play real well, didn’t hit real well, didn’t play with the type of attitude we like to play with,” Hightower said.
“It’s a lack of self-discipline and coming out and playing the game hard, showing respect to the game and trying to be the best you can be every single day.”
East was held to four hits through five innings by Mount Pleasant starter Grayson Atwood.
Justin Morris then hustled to beat out a grounder leading off the sixth, Luke Thomas blooped a single to center and Morris came home on a throwing error after a groundball by Andy Austin. A hit batter and two walks by Atwood scored another run to make it 8-4.
Anthony Allende, a regular starter for the Tigers, relieved Atwood in the seventh, but hit the second batter and Thomas followed with a two-run homer to left.
A walk, another hit batter and a wild pitch on a strikeout put runners second and third with two out, but after another walk, Hathcock grounded out to short.
“East has got a really good team, they’re well-coached and they play hard,” Mount Pleasant coach Bryan Tyson said. “That’s a good win for us. I know it’s just the Easter tournament, but we’re just now getting healthy and getting all our guys in the lineup and we feel like we’re starting to click a little bit now.”
Tyson said he was happy his team drew East in the round-robin tournament because “we know they’re going to bring their best every night”, but Hightower surely would disagree after this one.
Ashton Fleming and Will Sapp dropped flyballs – albeit deep ones near the warning track – on consecutive plays to begin the second inning and Thomas mishandled a throw home, allowing a runner to reach third and eventually score on a sacrifice fly.
Getting a spot start, Johnson didn’t have his usual control, walking three in three innings. The Tigers also hit him hard, with a two-run double off the wall in rightcenter by Nick Coble in the third the primary example.
“We didn’t want to take him out of his closer role, but we wanted to see if we could get some innings out of him early in the games that (Bradley) Robbins doesn’t pitch,” Hightower said of Johnson.
“They came in here knowing that he’s a pretty good pitcher and they got a couple (unearned) runs off of him and then hammered a couple balls that he got up.”
Johnson had gone over Hightower’s desired pitch count of 45 or 50 after three frames so Jared Mathis relieved, but failed to record an out. He issued two walks and a pair of RBI doubles before Curtis Ward came in and was greeted with a two-run single by Coble that made it 8-2.
“Some of the guys have been struggling with the bat because they haven’t seen enough live pitching because of injuries but they kind of broke loose and got swinging a little bit,” Tyson said. “I was pleased with our at-bats. We really had a good plan at the plate and they swung the bat hard.”
The Tigers finished with eight hits, but were also helped by nine walks.
Thomas had three of East’s seven hits and drove in three runs, with the other coming in a first inning that included two Tiger errors. He later scored by stealing home after a pick-off throw to first by the catcher.
But that was one of the few characteristic plays the Mustangs made
“Coach Tyson does a great job over there and has a good team,” Hightower said. “We’d just like to see more out of ourselves and play with a little bit more attitude.”
He’ll certainly be looking for that when East plays Jay M. Robinson at 10 a.m. today.
“We’re going to get to the ballpark early, take some BP and do all the things we need to do to set up them up to be successful,” Hightower said. “They need to come out and play like they’re capable of playing.”