Legion Baseball: Rowan 11, Statesville 1
By David Shaw
SALISBURY — Things are heating up at Newman Park — and it has nothing to do with the 94-degree temperature that greeted Rowan County’s American Legion baseball team Wednesday night.
Instead, it has everything to do with pitcher Thomas Allen and shortstop Justin Morris. Allen pitched seven sharp innings and Morris homered for the second straight game as Rowan battered visiting Statesville 11-1 in eight innings.
“It looks like we’re trying to win games instead of playing not to lose,” coach Jim Gantt said after second-place Rowan (5-2, 5-1) earned its third consecutive division victory. “We played like a good team tonight.”
Rowan matched its season-high with 15 hits against four Statesville pitchers. Morris went 3-for-4 with a walk and struck the game’s loudest blow when he belted an 0-1 fastball over the left-field wall — a three-run shot — that gave the hosts a 6-1 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“I guess I’m on fire right now,” said Morris, who also poled a solo home run Tuesday night at Concord. “I feel great. Gantt has worked with me on my swing. We’ve changed a couple of things — where my hands are, where my feet go. I’m swinging through the ball instead of getting under it.”
The homer came on Statesville reliever Clint Jordan’s pitch. “The first one went behind me and hit my bat,” said Morris. “The second one was right down the middle. He served it up at just the right speed.”
Statesville coach Trey Ramsey acknowledged the pitch was a mistake.
“We called for a two-seamer in and the catcher set up outside,” he said. “That’s a no-no. Either way, he missed his spot.”
In the meantime Allen was pitching like a sagacious veteran. Using mostly mid-80’s fastballs and a slider that dropped like an elevator with broken cables, he retired 10 of the first 11 Statesville batters. A rising sophomore at UNC-Pembroke, he scattered four singles, struck out three and walked three in a well-controlled, 88-pitch performance.
“That’s the first time in a long time I’ve gone seven innings,” he said after winning his first decision. “I think that’s gonna be the plan from here on out.”
Gantt, for one, is cool with that.
“We had a three-run lead (after five innings), but it seemed like it was more because of how he was pitching,” he said. “He kept changing speeds and changing location. He’s definitely one of the guys we’re counting on this season.”
Allen clearly wants to be more than a song-and-dance man in this show. He utilized both sides of the plate and brazenly fired heaters in on the hands of Statesville’s batters.
“Gantt says if I’m throwing 85 (MPH) on the outside corner, it looks 83 to the hitter,” he said. “But if I throw that same pitch inside it looks 87 or 88. It’s harder to get around on.”
Ramsey believes the visitors helped Allen out.
“Especially early on,” he said. “We were swinging at pitches high in the strike zone. We need to use our aggression more selectively.”
Rowan scored single runs in each of the first three innings against southpaw Brandon Whitener. He ran into double-trouble in the first, when Will Sapp drilled a first-pitch double to center field and Andy Austin delivered a one-out two-bagger to left-center. Taylor Garczynski singled and scored on a second-inning error and Matt Mauldin’s third-inning bouncer in the hole delivered RC’s third run. The game ended in the eighth when pinch-hitter Nolan Meyerhoeffer’s one-out infield hit plated Jared Mathis.
NOTES: Statesville (4-5 overall) fell to 2-3 in league play. … Rowan is idle until Sunday night when it hosts Randolph County. Right-hander Ethan Free is expected to make his first start.