Legion Baseball: Rowan 16, Mooresville Legends 6
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Luke Thomas’ bat slipped out of his hands in the fifth inning, soared through the air and found a brand new home high in the wire fencing protecting the fans behind home plate.
Otherwise, Rowan County kept a firm grip on an opening-night victory, beating the Mooresville Legends 16-6 in seven innings at Newman Park.
Rowan led 13-1 after five innings and cruised despite committing four errors and stranding 13 baserunners on a long, muggy night.
“Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “They had a five-run inning because we didn’t catch some balls that we might’ve caught. Still, there were a lot more bright points than there were bad.”
The shiniest of the bright points was shortstop Justin Morris, who got his season off to a fine start with a 5-for-6 effort at the plate.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever had a five-hit game in my life,” Morris said. “We had a lot of good hitting, but our pitching was the big thing. Pitching is going to be our main thing all year.”
Rowan used five arms to subdue the Legends. Starter Bradley Robbins was effective, but Gantt wanted to limit him to 60 pitches, and he was already pushing that barrier in the fourth.
“Bradley was throwing well,” said starting catcher Luke Thomas, who went 2-for-2 with two RBIs. “The heat just got to him a little bit. It was awfully hot out there.”
Lefty Zack Simpson, back from an injury-shortened season at Brevard, earned the win by retiring two pivotal batters in the fourth. He relieved Robbins and recorded back-to-back strikeouts with the bases loaded to protect a 6-1 lead. That was the Legends’ last realistic chance to get back into it.
“That’s not really the role Zack’s going to be in (Simpson is in the starting rotation), but he was going to throw some tonight, and he matched up well against that part of their lineup,” Gantt said. “It worked out.”
Ethan Free, who threw better than his boxscore line will appear, and Dakota Brown got Rowan through the fifth and sixth, and towering mystery man Caleb Henley had the crowd buzzing after his impressive appearance in the seventh. He faced four batters, blew away two and got another out on a grounder to first base.
“He’d been wanting to pitch all night,” Gantt said. “He was excited to get out there.”
Some fans had no clue who Henley was, and with good reason.
The East Rowan graduate didn’t play varsity baseball for the Mustangs, but he was the only player kept by UNC Greensboro in walk-on tryouts in the spring. He redshirted this season, but 6-foot-5 lefties with upper-80s fastballs have a future.
“Nathan (Fulbright) was catching when Henley went in tonight, but I caught him in intrasquad the other day,” Thomas said. “He’s got great stuff, and with his height, it’s just hard for batters to pick up the ball.”
Andy Austin’s sacrifice fly plated Will Sapp for a 1-0 lead in the first, but Rowan left the bases full.
Thomas’ wicked two-run double keyed Rowan’s four-run fourth and was followed by a Matt Laurens RBI double and a Fulbright sac fly.
The Legends finally got their first clean hit against Robbins in the fourth, but two walks and a hit batsmen gave the visitors a chance for a big inning before Simpson entered and slammed the door.
Matt Mauldin’s two-out single pushed the lead to 6-1 in the fourth, but Rowan again left the bases full.
Rowan then sent 13 to the plate and put the game away with a marathon, seven-run fifth. Ashton Fleming’s double off the left-field wall triggered the huge frame, and Rowan took full advantage of a pair of costly errors by the Legends.
“It was just kind of a typical opening night — long and sloppy,” Legends coach Jeff Burchett said. “We’re real short on the hill and we’ve got to stay away from those seven-run innings. We’re hoping we won’t have too many bad ones like that, but the positive was we did answer back.”
The Legends did answer. They put together a five-run sixth that included three doubles and a two-run single by Andrew Meadows.
Rowan still won by the 10-run rule, with Taylor Garczynski’s triple and Mauldin’s double keying a two-run sixth. Mason Jennings scored the game-ending run in the seventh when the Legends couldn’t turn a double play on Garczynski’s groundball.
“Rowan’s a good club,” Burchett said. “They’ll be up there at the top of the league again.”
If you’re struggling to keep the two Mooresville clubs straight, the Post 537 Legends will play at Mooresville High. The Post 66 Mooresville Moors are based at Lake Norman High.
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