Legion baseball: Rowan 13, Statesville 3
By David Shaw
BARIUM SPRINGS — Thomas Allen said he wasn’t at his best Friday night. Try telling that to last-place Statesville.
The Rowan County righthander was perfect in six different innings in an abbreviated 13-3 victory. But perfection had its price — and in the bottom of the fifth he allowed a game-altering three-run home run to Joran Gamble.
“I think I was better the last time against them,” said Allen, who also beat Statesville 11-1 on June 8. “I didn’t give up any home runs that night.”
Just the same, Allen helped Rowan (12-5, 9-4) remain third in the Southern Division standings. He struck out five and induced 12 groundouts in a 91-pitch, complete-game effort.
“He threw his offspeed stuff for strikes. That was the biggest thing,” losing coach Trey Ramsey said after Post 65 (4-12) fell to 2-10 in league play. “He threw a lot of low strikes, courtesy of the ump, which I thought were good calls because they went both ways. As a pitcher, he did exactly what he was taught to do — keep it down and make us pound it into the ground.”
Allen retired the first 13 batters he faced and was clearly outdueling Statesville ace Sam Laws. By the fifth inning RC had a 3-0 lead, thanks to timely hitting by Andy Austin (sac fly), Avery Rogers (run-scoring single) and Nathan Fulbright (RBI groundout).
There was still only one away in the fifth when Luke Thomas cracked the game open with a three-run homer that cleared the fence in right-center field.
“That was a big hit,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “Three-run homers cover up a lot of mistakes. That put us up six (runs) right before they jumped back with three. If Luke didn’t do that, we’d be in a tight dogfight. But he did and it helped us relax a little bit.”
Maybe too much so for Allen’s taste. After he retired Sean Grant to lead off the last of the fifth, the UNC-Pembroke product surrendered his only walk, coaxed by Laws on a 3-2 pitch.
“Up until then he was spotting everything,” said Fulbright, Rowan’s catcher. “He was effectively using all of his pitches.”
Those included two-seam and four-seam fastballs, a devilish changeup and take-a-seat slider. But it was a straight fastball that Vance Robinette punched into right field to break up Allen’s no-hitter. Then Gamble stepped in, quickly fell behind and then belted a delicious, right-down-Broadway heater over the fence in left-center.
“I lost focus,” Allen explained. “I had just lost the no-hitter and was trying to throw the ball as hard as I could.”
Fulbright said he and Allen may have “messed up” on the pitch call. He added: “The guy who hit the three-run bomb, that was a mistake. We should have gone with an offspeed pitch, not a fastball.”
Gantt agreed. “I told (Allen) he was one breaking ball away from pitching a shutout,” he said. “I think he went with the wrong pitch. Obviously it was the wrong location. He’ll learn from it.”
It’s called trial-and-error, but the mistake hardly mattered. Rowan battered three Statesville pitchers in the sixth inning when it scored six times and mounted a 12-3 lead. Justin Morris, Andy Austin and Matt Mauldin delivered run-scoring hits, another run crossed on an error and Taylor Garczynski capped the rally with a two-out, two-run single up the middle.
Rowan extended its margin to 10 runs in the top of the seventh. Austin grounded a two-out single to center, took second on a wild pitch and scored when Fulbright steered a groundball single into left. Three more Statesville groundouts in the bottom of the seventh cemented the outcome.
“It’s a good win for us,” outfeld Will Sapp said after collecting three of Rowan’s 14 hits. “Now we need to keep it going, working our way back to the top of the league.”
NOTES: Rowan hosts the touring Tuscaloosa, Ala. team tonight at Newman Park. Righthander Ethan Free (1-1, 4.67) is expected to start.