NPC Baseball Tournament: East Rowan 7, South Rowan 1
By Mike London
STATESVILLE — Maybe this pitching thing isn’t as complicated as it’s made out to be.
East Rowan coach Brian Hightower handed the ball to shortstop Justin Morris on Wednesday and Morris promptly cruised to a 7-1 win against South Rowan in a North Piedmont Conference Tournament semifinal.
Morris has a pitching background, but the senior infielder hasn’t been needed to hurl at the varsity level very often.
“Six innings all season before today,” Morris said with a smile. “What I’ve been taught is not to walk ’em. I tried to keep it low and I threw a lot of strikes.”
Morris walked none and fanned one and breezed through several innings with a handful of pitches. South’s 2-through-5 hitters took their hacks but all logged O-fers.
“I guess Morris isn’t what you expect to see from us as far as a No. 2 starter, but he’s got a fastball, changeup and curveball,” Hightower said. “He did a really nice job out there. When he missed, he missed low where he wasn’t going to get hurt, and we work hard enough on our defense that we expect to catch the ball. I really liked the way we played today.”
East pitchers have walked eight or more men in a game on five different occasions while handing out free passes to 116 batters (101 walks, 15 HBPs).
That’s almost five freebies per game, and that’s why Hightower conducted the Morris experiment. Don’t be shocked if Hightower asks Morris to start a playoff game, with lefty relief whiz Will Johnson ready to finish.
Fourth-seeded South (11-12) didn’t play well defensively. Starting pitcher Preston Penninger deserved better, but he didn’t have a chance after the top-seeded Mustangs (17-7) scored four unearned runs in the first.
“Preston pitched a heck of a game,” Chrismon said. “He got groundballs and flyballs and stuck in there and kept his composure in tough situations. But you can’t make errors like we did and beat anyone in the postseason.”
East had a couple of timely hits in the first inning. Andy Austin delivered a run-scoring double to the left-center alley, while Ashton Fleming came through with a two-out RBI single.
“South made some errors, but someone still has to make them pay,” Hightower said. “Guys made them pay.”
Morris was in only one tight spot. South had the bases loaded with two out in the second, but Morris got leadoff man Dylan Goodman to slap a groundball to third baseman Chase Hathcock.
East iced it with a three-run fourth. Hathcock’s infield hit and a bunt single by Wesley LeRoy got the inning rolling. Will Sapp, who had three hits, hammered an RBI double, and Luke Thomas singled in a run.
Morris mowed down the Raiders 1-2-3 in the third and fourth. Morris’ first pitch always looked tempting, but it usually produced ordinary contact and an another out.
“There were times when they were swinging at my pitch and getting themselves out,” Morris said.
Morris finally lost his shutout bid in the fifth when Parker Hubbard stroked a single up the middle to score Dillon Parker. South hit two balls hard that inning, but LeRoy, playing right field, tracked down liners by Tyler Kowalczyk and Eric Tyler.
LeRoy has been back in the lineup the past few games after missing several weeks with a back injury. His glove and arm are always assets, and he produced three singles out of the No. 9 spot in the batting order.
“Everyone played a really good game, and Morris, good Lord, he was just amazing,” LeRoy said. “It felt like everything came together for us today.”
NOTES: East plays second-seeded host West Iredell for the tournament title on Friday at 7 p.m. … South will be the NPC’s No. 4 seed, and that means a trip to play the Mega-7 champ on May 13. … East has won 10 straight against the Raiders. … South’s last win in the series came in 2007 when Ivan Corriher produced five RBIs in a 10-7 South victory.