Legion baseball: Rowan 7, Concord 5
By Jordan Honeycutt
CONCORD — Many of us, including Rowan County legion baseball fans, have always known that there are two certainties in life… death and taxes.
Well, you can add a third to that list; the left arm of Will Johnson.
Johnson came into the game in the pressure-filled bottom of the ninth, with his team mates just having scored two runs in the top of the ninth, to take a 7-5 lead over Concord.
Johnson toed the rubber and delivered his trademark heavy dose of “fastballs,” surrendered just one hit and put the game to bed.
“I just threw fastballs like always,” Johnson said.
“Avery (Rogers) made some great plays on grounders at third and my defense had my back like they always do.”
The bottom of the ninth is winning time in the game of baseball, and Rowan once again buckled down in typical peculiar fashion.
After Andy Austin laced his third hit to the outfield, Concord pitcher Dillon Ashburn plunked Luke Thomas and intentionally walked Matt Mauldin to load the bases.
Nathan Fulbright was then summoned to pinch-hit for Matt Laurens and tapped a lazy, excuse me check swing down the third base line.
Concord third baseman Blaine Hill scooped up the ball and fired an arrant ball to home that sailed over the catcher’s mitt and allowed Austin and pinch-runner Alex Morgan to safely slide home for the lead.
Concord head coach Jaymie Russ said that he knew what was coming and the fact that they still didn’t stop it, had him more frustrated than usual.
“We were thinking bunt, you know with bases loaded and nobody out, Hill just made a bad throw home and we lost that way, but it’s baseball and sometimes that happens,” Russ said.
For the second consecutive game, Rowan scored 3 plus runs in the opening inning.
“We definitely started out great early again tonight and jumped on them, but gave it right back with errors,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said.
“Our guys pitched really well tonight, we just lost a couple games of catch out there in the infield, but it was good to see Zach (Simpson) give us a good start tonight.”
Simpson tossed five strong innings, allowing only three runs and walking zero, while whiffing four.
“Zach could have gone much deeper in the game, as we didn’t take him out due to his performance, we just didn’t want to overwork him coming off of his arm injury suffered at Brevard,” Gantt said.
Following Simpson on the hill, in relief, were Ethan Free, Caleb Henley and Johnson.
After Concord tied the game at five apiece in the sixth, Henley entered and hurled 1 and 1/3 innings of shutout ball to pick up the win.
Leading the charge offensively for Rowan were Austin’s three hits, Mauldin’s two and a bomb from Justin Morris.
Austin delivered two hard-hit liners for a double and a single and then dropped a blooper down the left-field line that NASA couldn’t have guided to any better position.
Morris broke a 3-3 tie in the fourth with a solo homer that rapidly cleared the right field wall.
“We just got a lot of timely hits tonight, which it turned out we desperately needed,” said Austin.
“I’m glad that I was able to shake off the bad night last night, and hit the ball well for us tonight, and just knew there in the ninth that I had to get home and was going to have to get dirty,” Austin said.
Rowan’s entire team had to get dirty to pull this one out, as a game Concord bunch answered Rowan punch-for-punch up until the end.
Concord starter Anthony Allende threw what seemed like 200 pitches and improved after a shaky first inning as the game went on, before exiting after the seventh.
“We got off to a rocky start tonight and Rowan has a great ball club and are well-coached and it is just hard to spot them anything and expect to overcome it but I’m proud of how our guys fought tonight,” Russ said.
Rowan now improves to (4-2, 4-1) and will look to ride the momentum of a two game winning streak tonight at Newman Park versus Statesville.