Legion Baseball: Rowan 4, South Rowan 3: Austin sings, Snider's jersey retired
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Everyone knows Rowan County first baseman Andy Austin is a five-tool player, but he added a sixth tool in a tense 4-3 win against South Rowan on Friday.
Besides being able to run, hit, hit with power, field and throw, Austin proved that he can sing.
Austin chose the night on which Patrick Snider’s No. 7 was retired to belt out a mellow National Anthem in front of a crowd for the first time, and the tenor’s voice filled the air at a hushed, solemn Newman Park.
North’s Snider succumbed to cancer after spending last summer as a member of the Rowan Legion team, but now his No. 7 will be on the right-field wall as the long as the park stands.
“You’re teammates with a guy, and then he’s gone,” Austin said. “We’ve had a year to get over it now, but he’s still in our hearts, and it’s still emotional. I know tonight was big for Patrick’s mom and dad, and I just wanted to do everything I could to respect and honor Patrick’s memory.”
On a night on which offense was scarce, Austin swung the most inspired bat. He drilled two doubles.
“I thought we took a lot of strikes,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “Andy’s singing was probably the best thing our team did. It was all downhill after that. That was a hard game to watch.”
Matt Mauldin stole three bases for Rowan. Jacob Dietz had three singles for South.
Rowan’s Thomas Allen (five innings, no walks) and South’s Weston Smith (six innings, nine strikeouts) were the starting pitchers and dueled most of the evening.
“Smith kept it low, lots of fastballs outside, and we just didn’t hit him much,” said Rowan’s Will Sapp, who was the only player on either team to collect multiple RBIs.
South’s Cory Deason suffered what may be a serious knee injury when his leg collapsed as he raced past the first-base bag in the sixth. Deason is South’s backup catcher and had been pressed into duty with starting catcher Joseph Basinger out of the lineup with a strained oblique.
South coach Michael Lowman had to call on outfielder Patrick Hampton to finish the game behind the dish.
Deason scored on a two-out error in the second for a 1-0 South lead.
Justin Morris singled home a Rowan run in the third to tie it. Sapp walked with the bases loaded for a 2-1 Rowan edge in the fourth.
South (1-5, 1-2) made it 2-2 in the sixth when Parker Hubbard drove in Hampton, running for Deason.
Rowan’s two runs in the bottom of the sixth weren’t pretty — South’s catching situation figured heavily — but they proved decisive.
Jared Mathis singled with one out and moved to third on a passed ball and a wild pitch.
Sapp’s tapper up the third-base line with two men out scored Mathis. A charging Dietz fielded the ball but had no chance at all to get Sapp.
“I’ll take it,” Sapp said. “It got us the lead, and our defense held up just enough.”
Sapp stole second, kept going to third when the throw got away and scored on a wild pitch that squirted just far enough away from Hampton.
“The difference in the game turned out to be Sapp making a great read of a ball in the dirt,” Gantt said. “Hampton did a decent job catching. That’s a tough position to be in.”
South got one run back in the seventh when Dietz’s two-out, two-strike flare to right scored Maverick Miles.
Zack Simpson was the winning pitcher for the second time in three nights for Rowan (2-0, 2-0). He entered and struck out two batters with men on base to end the sixth, survived the seventh when Hubbard flied out deep, and zipped through the eighth with the help of a 4-6-3 twin killing.
Simpson was shut down early in the season at Brevard after tearing a muscle in his elbow, but he’s OK now.
“We’ve had pretty wide strike zones in both games so far,” he said. “That helps.”
South’s Gunnar Hogan barely missed a two-homer to center that would’ve changed the complexion of the game quite a bit in the fourth.
“I was 5 or 6 feet from the wall,” Sapp said. “If he lines that one out, even a little bit, it’s out of here.”
A highlight for South was the nice 5-3-2 double play in the third, but it was a frustrating night for the visitors, who failed to take full advantage of five Rowan errors.
“We were fortunate,” Gantt said. “Probably should’ve got our brains beat out the way we played defense.”
But when it came to singing, Rowan was good.
Sapp was told that his turn to warble might come next.
“Maybe I’ll lip sync,” he said with a smile.