Legion baseball: Rocky Mount 9, Rowan 6

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 5, 2011

By Mike London
SALISBURY ó If you took Mason Jennings in the ěWho will hit Rowan Countyís first home run?î pool, you won about $50 million on Sunday night.
Jennings was a longshot.
Homerless in 133 official career at-bats at North, he crushed a no-doubter to right field in the fourth inning that rose high above Patrick Sniderís newly retired jersey on the wall before disappearing into the night.
Jenningsí three-run blast was the highlight of a 9-6 loss to Rocky Mount, an Area I team making a rare visit to Newman Park.
Jennings didnít pass out when the baseball departed the premises. He calmly circled the bases.
ěObviously, Iím not up there looking for a home run because I hadnít hit one before,î Jennings said. ěI just wanted to hit the ball hard. It was a low pitch, and I got the barrel on it.î
Jennings managed a smile, but he wouldíve enjoyed his memorable night a lot more had Rowan been able to hold the 6-3 lead his longball temporarily provided. But that was the last clutch hit Rowan (2-2) could produce.
ěYeah, I just wish we couldíve won the game,î Jennings said wistfully. ěWe out-hit ëem, but they still outscored us. That shows weíve got to clean some things up defensively.î
Jennings also took part in Rowanís defensive highlight, chasing down a ball Matthew Berry walloped to the center-field fence in the third and firing to second baseman Taylor Garczynski, who relayed the ball to catcher Alex Morgan. Morgan put the tag on a runner trying to score from first base.
Jennings, Garczynski and Morgan are competing for playing time and roster spots. With Rowan playing its first non-league game of the season, coach Jim Gantt wanted to see what they could do.
Garczynski drove in two runs with an extra-base smash in the third, while Morgan had three hits. Nolan Meyerhoeffer got his first start of the season in left field and had two hits before cramping.
ěThere were a lot of bright spots,î Gantt said. ěJennings had a great night, and I thought Morgan looked good. We had some new guys out there tonight at crunch-time, and there was some nervousness, but youíve got to give them a chance. This game can really help us if we let it.î
Rocky Mount (6-3) came to town with good arms and the Berry twins ó Matthew and Thomas ó who were terrors in the middle of the lineup. Thomas had two doubles, two singles and a walk in his five plate appearances and scored four times.
ěThe Berrys can hit, but I take no credit,î Rocky Mount coach Hank Jones said. ěThey could hit when I got them.î
Garczynskiís big hit and Andy Austinís RBI single staked Rowan starter Matt Laurens to a 3-0 lead, but Rocky Mount laced three extra-base hits in the fourth for a 3-3 tie. Jennings hit his homer in the bottom half to put Rowan back on top 6-3.
ěMasonís power was a surprise,î Gant said. ěThat ball was gone when it left his bat.î
Ethan Free and Alex Bost followed Laurens to the mound, pitched effectively, and allowed Rowan to take a 6-4 lead into the seventh.
Both Berrys reached against reliever Dusty Agner to start that inning. Avery Rogers relieved Agner, and the first batter he faced bunted. Rogers fielded the ball in good shape, but his throw glanced off the glove of Garczynski, covering first, and a run scored. One groundout later, it was 6-6.
Jennings walked and made it to third base in the eighth, but Austin flied deep to right for the third out.
Rocky Mount loaded the bases with none out in the ninth and picked up three runs on two sac flies and Jeremy Sloopís RBI single.
Rowan was shut down by Trellis Ashley for four innings but tried to rally in the ninth. Singles by Nathan Fulbright and Matt Mauldin and Dakota Brownís walk filled the bases with none out, but reliever Cam Webb entered and retired Morgan on a well-hit fly to center field. Then Will Sappís bouncer to third base resulted in a game-ending DP, the third of the night turned by the visitors.
ěItís a great win for us, coming from behind in this ballpark,î Jones said. ěWe got to expose our kids to one of the finest Legion programs in North Carolina, and it was a very good game that either team could have won. I was proud our kids hung in there.î