Legion baseball: So. Rowan 5, Rowan 4
By Mike London
LANDIS — Opportunities for redemption abound in baseball, and South Rowan’s Parker Hubbard and Dillon Atwell made the most of second chances on Saturday.
Hubbard and Atwell helped South rally past Rowan County 5-4 — an unexpected outcome. Rowan (9-3, 6-2) had won seven in a row. South (4-10, 3-6) hadn’t won a league contest since June 6.
South scored all its runs in the seventh and eighth.
“Our bullpen let us down some tonight,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “And we didn’t make plays that could’ve helped our pitchers out.”
On paper, it was a mismatch, but the guy standing on a hill 60 feet, 60 inches from the plate is the great equalizer, and South right-hander Matt Miller gave his team a shot with eight powerful innings.
“Matt really wanted to pitch this game, and some of his competitiveness rubbed off on his teammates,” South coach Michael Lowman said.
Rowan didn’t get a hit off Miller between the third inning and the eighth, as South won for just the eighth time in 35 meetings with Rowan.
“Miller was the complete difference in the ballgame,” Gantt said. “He was so outstanding, it was almost fun watching him. He kept battling, and he had enough quick innings to keep his pitch-count down low enough to go eight. South’s a very good team, and when Miller pitches, they can beat anyone.”
Miller’s night didn’t start auspiciously. Justin Morris, Rowan’s second batter, lashed his fourth homer of the summer for a quick 1-0 lead
When Will Sapp singled, Morris was hit by a pitch and Miller was called for a balk in the third inning, Rowan had runners at second and third with one out. Miller struck out Luke Thomas on a breaking ball that bounced in the dirt, but that unhittable pitch led to two Rowan runs.
South catcher Joseph Basinger had to make the throw to first base with Thomas hustling down the line, and his peg sailed away. Sapp and Morris scored easily, and South was in 3-0 hole.
Thomas Allen pitched five scoreless innings for Rowan, tap-dancing out of one jam after another. South had runners at the corners with none out in the second but failed to score, couldn’t scratch after loading the bases with one out in the third, and couldn’t take advantage of back-to-back walks in the fourth.
Big southpaw Caleb Henley struck out the side for Rowan in the sixth, but South’s seventh turned the game.
Dylan Goodman singled for one of his three hits to start the inning, and Henley walked Maverick Miles.
Kyle Bridges, a lefty hitter, was next, and Lowman had given him some options.
“I’d never seen Henley before, and Coach told me it might be a good time to bunt,” Bridges said. “(Avery) Rogers was back at third, so I was already thinking about it.”
Bridges’ bunt didn’t get down the third-base line, but it was in a perfect spot on the soggy grass halfway between the mound and the plate.
It was very unlikely Henley was going to get Bridges at first, but he tried. His throw whizzed down the right-field line, and South players sprinted. When the smoke cleared and the arguments stopped, South trailed 3-1 and had runners at second and third.
Gunnar Hogan then delivered South’s first key hit of the night, a two-run single just out of reach of the diving Rogers, and it was 3-3.
Rowan went back in front in the eighth when Matt Mauldin scored on Matt Lauren’s routine, two-out grounder toward second baseman Parker Hubbard. The ball went right through Hubbard’s legs, and the dismayed youngster looked like he wanted to be anywhere on the planet except where he was.
“I wanted to crawl under a rock, to be honest,” Hubbard said. “I wanted someone to come out there and shoot me.”
Baseball has a sense of humor, and Hubbard led off the South eighth against Rowan reliever Dakota Brown.
“I didn’t say anything to Parker,” Lowman said. “Didn’t have to. He’s played enough baseball to know there are times when you have to pick yourself up and pick your team up.”
Hubbard did just that with a solid, rally-igniting single.
“At first, I was thinking about the error, but then I started thinking that I could hit that guy,” Hubbard said. “I got an inside fastball and got my hands through it.”
Hubbard stole second, and South had two on after Brown walked Jordan Kennerly with one out.
Gantt usually saves lefty closer Will Johnson for the ninth, but he sensed that on this night the pivotal time had arrived. Johnson got the call.
Johnson faced Goodman first, and while Goodman didn’t drill the ball, his grounder sneaked up the middle. Hubbard barreled home to tie the game, and when center fielder Sapp’s throw home scooted away from catcher Nathan Fulbright, Kennerly and Goodman both moved up a base.
Miles was intentionally walked to set up a lefty-lefty matchup with Johnson against Bridges, but Bridges made solid contact. His flyball to center was deep enough to score Kennerly. South led 5-4.
South still needed three outs, and those last three have been elusive all summer, mostly because South basically has a one-man bullpen, and that one guy — Dillon Atwell — is 15 years old.
Rogers opened the Rowan ninth with a solid liner. Hubbard, on a roll now, speared it.
“I almost over-ran the ball because it was tailing so much,” Hubbard said. “I kind of stopped myself in mid-air and was able to catch it.”
Ashton Fleming grounded out, but when Sapp got an infield hit and Morris walked, Rowan had two men on for Thomas, a proven slugger.
Thomas drove the ball hard to the opposite field, but Miles was playing deep in right. He plucked the ball from the sky and punched the air with a fist.
“We’ve been on the short end of a lot of these,” Bridges said. “It was huge to win one.”
Lowman was elated, especially for his young closer, who had dropped a tough one 24 hours earlier to Stanly.
“That was a tough situation to put Atwell in, but he did a great job,” Lowman said. “All year, we’ve played with teams, but we just couldn’t beat ’em. Maybe we got over the hump tonight. Maybe we can still make some noise.”