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Legion baseball: Rowan 10, E. Randolph 7

By Mike London
mlondon@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — Two American Legion teams showed up at Newman Park on Sunday night clad in dark blue jerseys with red numerals and white pinstriped pants.
Rowan County distinguished itself from Eastern Randolph Post 81 in the non-division game mostly because of Luke Thomas’ bat and Avery Rogers’ right arm.
Thomas walloped a three-run homer on a 3-0 fastball to highlight Rowan’s decisive seven-run third inning to key a 10-7 victory, and the Guilford-bound Rogers totally dominated with three hitless innings of relief to help the home team hold on.
“Avery threw a few breaking balls just to let them know it was there,” said Thomas, a sturdy catcher headed to Wingate. “But he overpowered them with his fastball. When he came in, they were a little shellshocked by his arm strength.”
Neither team will submit its defensive effort for a highlight tape. There weren’t a lot of errors in the scorebook, but several flyballs fell in that could’ve been caught.
“It was a decent ballgame, but both teams helped each other,” ER coach Jerry Kidd said. “Some plays that ought to be outs weren’t made.”
Rowan coach Jim Gantt echoed the sentiments of the ER coach, although he was a little more blunt about it.
“We are inventing ways to screw up,” he said. “It’s not explainable, and I’m not used to it. We just didn’t play very well. Somehow we’ve got to find a way to play good baseball more consistently.”
While it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Rowan (13-6, 9-4), it is still in the thick of the race for the Southern Division of Area III regular-season crown.
Part of Rowan’s success is due to Thomas’ bat, which has changed from “Luke-warm” to torrid in the past week. He’s belted three homers in his last four games and owns a team-high 21 RBIs for the summer.
“One of the hardest things to do in baseball is to slow down, but Luke was able to slow down tonight against a pitcher throwing a lot of off-speed stuff after seeing a lot of velocity from that team (Dothan Ala.) we played on Saturday,” Gantt said.
Landon Allen, Knox Gunter, Jacob Springs and Austin Capps had two hits each for ER, which may have been the first team in Newman Park history with three Calebs in the starting lineup.
Rowan was in a quick 2-0 hole after the top of the first but tied it in the bottom half on a short foul sac fly by Nathan Fulbright and a ringing RBI double off the right-field wall by Thomas, who crushed a changeup.
Rowan’s seven-run third included a pair of singles by Justin Morris. Andy Austin picked up a triple when his liner skipped past a diving left fielder, and Thomas unloaded his three-run bomb.
“I adjusted to the pitcher’s speed by getting up in the box,” Thomas said. “I saw the ball out of his hand early.”
Rowan got two more runs on a zany play when a wild pitch was compounded by a throwing error by Capps, who started at catcher but doesn’t ordinarily play there.
“We had a brand new catcher and we also had to save pitching,” said Kidd, whose 11-5 team is contending in the Northern Division. “The two kids who pitched (Caleb Phillips and Capps) are very capable of winning, but we weren’t going to use a lot of pitchers tonight.”
Staked to a 9-3 lead after three innings, winning pitcher Dakota Brown made it through five frames despite allowing 11 hits. He survived because he didn’t walk anyone and because he induced three double-play bouncers.
“When he had to make a pitch, Dakota made one,” Thomas said. “He got those double plays with good pitches that were low and inside.”
After Rogers ruled the sixth, seventh and eighth, Jared Mathis tossed a scoreless ninth to save it. His key pitch was a punchout of Gunter on a cap-high 3-2 heater with one out and one on.
“That was a good fastball, and it’s hard to lay off that pitch when you’re geared up for it,” Thomas said.
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NOTES: Final cuts were Alex Morgan, Dusty Agner, Mason Jennings (injured) and Nolan Meyerhoeffer. Pitcher Alex Bost was shifted to the Junior team roster.

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