Prep Baseball Playoffs: East Surry 9, North Rowan 7, 8 innings
By DAVID SHAW
SPENCER — The county’s last-team-standing is standing no more.
Upstart North Rowan used its final lifeline Friday night when it bowed out of the 1A state playoffs, falling 9-7 in eight innings to visiting East Surry.
“Nobody ever thinks a game is gonna play out like that,” coach Aaron Rimer said after the Cavs (22-7) suffered a draining, third-round knockout. “It was a wild one.”
What a long, strange trip it was for North, which stranded 16 baserunners, nine of them in scoring position. While the Cavs punched out 11 hits — and even prevailed in a controversial, seventh-inning argument — they repeatedly failed to deliver in clutch situations.
“That describes the whole game for us,” senior Matt Mauldin said. “We got hits like we always do. But when we needed it most, when we had runners on base, we stopped hitting. ”
North loaded the bases with one away in the bottom of the first inning but couldn’t produce a run. It left three more runners aboard after tying the score in the last of the seventh. Finally, in the eighth it had runners at the corners when Tyler Wyatt took a season-ending called third strike.
“I’ve been around a long time, but I’ve never seen a game like that,” said East Surry coach Barry Hall, a 36-year vet with more than 600 career wins printed on the back of his bubble-gum card. “Neither team would give in or give up. It’s a shame someone had to lose.”
ES (20-9) advanced after scoring a pair of eighth-inning runs against North reliever Dakota Brown. The inning opened when Ryan Johnson (3-for-4, 3 RBIs) chopped a ground ball toward second base. But North infielders Jake Smith and Josh Mock collided on the play and Johnson reached safely.
“The way that ball was hit, I don’t think either one of them could have made a play,” Rimer said. “He would have been safe regardless.”
A sacrifice bunt moved Johnson to second base Devin Slate dropped a double down the right-field line. With runners at second and thir, Aaron Ewbanks ripped a scorching line drive back to the box. The ball deflected off Brown’s glove and skipped past second base, allowing both runners to race home.
“If Dakota catches that ball, we probably win the game,” Rimer said. “That’s not a play you expect somebody to make. But with Dakota, he’s made plays nobody expected him to make his whole life.”
The hit made Brown (2-2) a losing pitcher in his final varsity game. He took over for starter Dusty Agner and struck out six batters in four innings, but his season-ending ERA ballooned to 1.69.
“I thought we were gonna come out here and they wouldn’t be much of a problem,” said Brown. “But they put up a good fight. Everybody knows we should have won, but a couple of things didn’t go our way.”
Rimer was most disturbed about the Cavs’ offense. “We did not take good approaches at the plate,” he said. “It’s like we wanted to hit three-run homers instead of just shooting the gaps.”
Despite all of North Rowan’s success this season, this was a loss that will leave a stain.
“We have a saying on our team,” Mauldin noted. “If it doesn’t happen, it probably wasn’t supposed to happen.”
NOTES: East Surry will host South Stanly in a fourth-round game on Tuesday. … North scored six unearned runs against ES starter Jordan Miller in the last of the fourth. … The game was halted for about 10 minutes in the top of the seventh while the umpires sorted out a questionable strikeout/tagout call. “They told me they wanted to get it right,” said Rimer. “In the end, they did.”
Mauldin had three hits and finished with a team-best .522 batting average.