Prep baseball: Weddington 2, East Rowan 1
By David Shaw
GRANITE QUARRY — There are times when silence has the loudest voice.
Times like Wednesday night at Staton Field, where East Rowan suffered a season-ending loss and had its reign as defending 3A state champion gaveled to a close.
“This is the quietest its been since I got here four years ago,” senior Will Sapp mustered after the Mustangs were purged from the playoffs by visiting Weddington, a 2-1, nine-inning winner in the second round of the state playoffs. “There isn’t much to say. It’s just kind of a shocker.”
It was monumental as well. East (19-8) failed in its bid to win 20 games for the sixth consecutive season. Losing pitcher Bradley Robbins was tagged with his first loss in 11 decisions after yielding an unearned run in the top of the ninth inning. And starting pitcher Justin Morris — who hadn’t allowed an earned run in 16 1/3 innings — was yanked after surrendering Payden Honeycutt’s leadoff home run in the sixth.
“When you get to the playoffs and it’s one-and-done, it boils down to who gets that clutch hit or who makes the big play,” East coach Brian Hightower said. “It’s the little things that get you past this round and tonight, we didn’t execute when we needed to.”
Weddington (15-9) — limited to three hits — rode the golden left arm of winning pitcher Jordan Newsome, who hurled a complete game and won his ninth decision. The Wingate signee blended a crisp fastball with a paralyzing curve and a knee-buckling changeup in a cocktail that knocked the Mustangs out.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking, especially in that last inning,” Newsome said after fanning 14 batters in a 158-pitch effort. “But I kept hitting my spots, kept throwing strikes and worked through it.”
Winning coach Travis Poole indicated that Newsome has been Weddington’s go-to guy all season. “He’s pitched in every big game we’ve had,” he said. “Our philosphy is to throw strikes, get ahead and get into pitcher’s counts, not hitter’s counts. He did all of that.”
East took a 1-0 lead in the last of the fourth inning when Ashton Fleming walked and scored on Wesley Leroy’s two-out double over the center-fielder’s head.
Weddington tied the score in the sixth, when Honeycutt drilled a 2-2 changeup from Morris down the left-field line and over the fence. “That was actually a good pitch, low-and-away,” said East catcher Luke Thomas. “The kid just put a good swing on it.”
Morris retired 12 of the first 13 Weddington hitters, then worked out of a fifth-inning jam when third-baseman Chase Hathcock started a 5-4-3 double play. Morris, who struck out three and walked one, finished the season with a microscopic 0.43 ERA.
The guests scored the winning run against Robbins without managing a hit. Alex Morales opened the ninth inning by working the count to 3-and-2, then coaxing a walk. Teammate Ryan Langevin followed with a free pass, this one on a 3-1 pitch.
That set the stage for the game’s pivotal play. No. 3 batter Jeremy Schellhorn followed with a sacrifice bunt that Robbins fielded cleanly. As Thomas barked “three, three, three” Robbins turned and slipped on the damp infield grass as he tried for a forceout at third base. His throw skipped past the bag, into foul territory down the left-field line, allowing Morales to score the go-ahead run.
“The way that ball was bunted — hard and right back at the pitcher — it made sense to try to get him at third,” Thomas said. “The other factor was Robbins, who is so athletic. Nine times out of 10 he makes that play.”
East made one final charge up the hill in the bottom of the ninth. Sapp and Avery Rogers drew walks and Leroy steered a two-out single into left field. But the Mustangs stranded all three baserunners when Morris whiffed on a game-ending, 2-2 changeup.
“I had thrown him three straight fastballs,” Newsome said. “I figured he wasn’t expecting something offspeed.”
Added Hightower: “(Newsome) was awesome when runners weren’t on base — and even better when they were.”
When it was all over, and the grandstand and parking lot had thinned out, Hightower searched for an explanation.
“You’re not gonna go 31-2 every year,” he said. “Like I told the guys, there’s 90-something teams in 3A and only one of them is going home a winner on June 4.”
And this year it won’t be the Mustangs.