F&M Classic: West Rowan 11, NW Cabarrus 8

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 27, 2011

By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS — The old joke goes that the longest word in the English language is “smiles” because there’s a mile between the first and last letters.
Dazed, mile-long smiles graced the faces of all of West Rowan’s players on Wednesday afternoon after an astonishing 11-8 upset of SPC champion Northwest Cabarrus in the first round of the F&M Bank Classic.
West, a sixth-place finisher in the seven-team NPC and nearing the end of the school’s harshest baseball season since 1977, smacked the ball all over Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium and led all the way. Matt Miller was a bulldog on the mound and somehow went the distance despite allowing 11 hits and six walks and uncorking five wild pitches.
“We’re not playing very well right now, and it cost us again,” Northwest coach Joe Hubbard said. “We just couldn’t stop them. We knew the top of their lineup was pretty good, but it was the guys at the bottom we couldn’t get out.”
Hubbard pinpointed the key to the game. West’s 6-through-9 hitters scored six runs and knocked in seven.
“I don’t know that there was a kid in our lineup that didn’t have a big hit,” said beaming West coach Chad Parker, savoring his biggest victory since he took the reins five games into this season.
Everyone agreed the biggest moment occurred in the top of the first.
Practically bursting at the seams with young talent, Northwest (15-6) quickly loaded the bases with none out against Miller, when an infield hit was followed by walks drawn by sophomore UNC commitment Tanner Bigham and junior South Carolina commitment Corey Seager.
“I was pretty scared,” said Miller, a junior who won in relief against Northwest at Fieldcrest in 2010. “It was so bad I was thinking about pulling myself out.”
But Miller picked up back-to-back strikeouts with breaking balls. Then catcher Steven Crandall made a good play on a tapper in front of the plate to end the inning.
No runs, three left on base.
“Miller just worked his magic,” Parker said.
It was a very early turning point.
“We knew how good they were, and we were probably a little timid at the start,” West senior Steven Wetmore said. “But when Miller got out of that jam, it was like, ‘All right, we can hang with ’em.’ ”
West (4-17) has hung with a lot of teams for long stretches, but it has rarely put seven innings together. This day would be different.
After Miller put another zero on the scoreboard in the NWC second, Crandall, West’s No. 8 hitter, delivered the first clutch hit, a sharp, two-run double down the third-base line that followed walks to Justin Evans and Wetmore.
Northwest defensive struggles allowed West to score two more before the inning was over, and Miller had a 4-0 lead.
Northwest put two on with no outs in the third on an error and the first of Seager’s four hard-hit singles, but the Falcons turned a double play to extinguish the threat.
West scored twice in the bottom of the third for a 6-0 lead. Evans and Wetmore hammered back-to-back doubles. Then No. 9 hitter Chase Laing singled home a run.
Jarrin Hogue walloped an opposite-field homer into the right-field bullpen to trigger Northwest’s five-run fourth, but the Falcons still didn’t fall apart. They immediately answered with four more runs, two scoring on a booming double by Wetmore.
“I’ve been struggling, but I’ve finally figured some things out and made adjustments,” he said. “This could be one of our last times to play baseball, and we just wanted to have some fun out there. Today was a lot of fun.”
By the sixth, Miller was tiring, and a desperate Northwest team had picked up its intensity. West needed a break — and got it.
With the lead down to 11-8, Miller got a glove on a shot up the middle, and the ball deflected to second baseman Taylor Garczynski, who turned a smash off the bat of Landon Hubbard into an inning-ending — probably game-saving — twin killing.
Northwest put two more runners on in the seventh, but Miller got a strikeout to end it. The Trojans stranded 11 on the day.
“When you get down 6-0, you’re supposed to lose, but we got the tying run to the plate,” Hubbard said. “That’s about all you can ask. West just did a very good job to hang on.”