Legion baseball: South Rowan 7, Kannapolis 1
By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS — It was a movie everyone had already seen several times — “Little Jesse Park Pounds the Outside Corner With Sliders” — but it’s a film South Rowan Legion coach Michael Lowman won’t mind watching 10 more times this summer.
In fact, he’ll probably buy popcorn for everybody.
The crafty Park, who won 11 games between Carson High and the South Legion team in 2010, was dazzling on Thursday and carried South to a 7-1 Southern Division of Area III victory against Kannapolis at quiet Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium.
It was the first win for South after an 0-4 start, but South is 1-1 in the division.
“It’s our first win, and it’s a good win,” Park said. “I settled in after that first batter, and our hitting got a life tonight.”
Park walked the first man he faced but didn’t walk another. He struck out eight, mostly called strikes on the outside-corner black, and scattered seven hits in seven crisp innings. Dylan Walker and Preston Penninger finished up.
“Mostly this was Jesse, and I can’t say enough about him,” a relieved Lowman said. “He gave us just what we needed. He was aggressive in the strike zone and went after hitters. We played good behind him, but we didn’t have a lot of hard plays to make.”
South has struggled defensively in the early going but got some things straightened out at FCS. Right fielder Maverick Miles gloved a sinking liner in the seventh, and shortstop Gunnar Hogan made a charging play in the eighth.
Kannapolis (0-3, 0-2) led 1-0 after Taylor West and Jon Wallace whacked back-to-back, opposite-field doubles against Park in the second, but Post 115 didn’t get any more clutch hits.
“If we were making errors or walking a bunch of people, I’d be concerned, but we’ve only made one error in three games,” upbeat Kannapolis coach Matt Stack said. “What’s not working for us right now is we’re not getting hits with runners in scoring position. We need quality at-bats at the right times. Guys are pressing, like they’re trying to win jobs with one swing. They just need to relax and have fun.”
Hogan led South’s offense with three screamers — a double to deep left leading off the game, a triple to the right-field fence in the third, and a line single in the fifth.
Hogan had two shots at completing a rare cycle, but he walked and struck out.
“Oh yeah, everyone kept reminding me that all I needed for the cycle was the homer,” Hogan said with a laugh. “I knew I had everything else, but it’s not like I went up there to the plate thinking about it.”
A Catawba signee, Hogan had a good senior high school season but not the great one he wanted. He finally looked dialed in against Kannapolis.
“I’m trying to be more patient, and I’m seeing it a little better,” Hogan said. “I was just happy the team played baseball the right way tonight. That’s the best defense we’ve played.”
South collected 13 hits against four Kannapolis hurlers. Miles, Matt Miller and Parker Hubbard had two apiece.
Hogan’s triple keyed a two-run third in which South took the lead for good against Kannapolis starter Zach Jones, who lasted five innings.
Hogan’s three-bagger drove in Hubbard, who was carrying a nasty bruise from an HBP on Wednesday. Hogan scored on Miles’ bouncing, two-out single up the middle.
A well-struck double to left by Miller started South’s two-run fourth that pushed the lead to 4-1. Dylan Goodman knocked in Miller. Goodman scored on a wild pitch.
The backbreaker for Kannapolis was a two-run single that Weston Smith punched to center field in the seventh. Smith had nothing to show for the two rockets he belted, but his soft single got two runs across. Jacob Dietz got South’s third run of the inning with a groundout that made it 7-1.
Park struck out the side in the sixth and faced his only serious adversity in the seventh when Kannapolis loaded the bases with one out. Lowman paid a visit with leadoff man Mike Jones waiting to hit.
“Jesse had made big pitches in big spots all night, and he’d earned the right to try to get out of that jam if he still felt OK,” Lowman said. “He said he was good.”
Park struck out Jones and then Wes Honeycutt, quietly smacking catcher Cory Deason’s mitt with perfectly placed strike threes that were impossible to hit but too close to take.
“Sliders on the outside corner,” Park said. “Maybe I was a little lucky.”
Park has been strangely lucky for a long time. It’s a movie we’ve all seen before.
“You know exactly what you’re going to get from that guy — low velo and a lot of stuff outside, but he hits his spots,” Honeycutt said. “I was a little mad that I got called out, but I was madder at myself that I didn’t swing.”
Smith will pitch against Rowan tonight at Newman Park.