Legion baseball: Rowan 6, Mooresville Moors 4

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 1, 2011

By David Shaw
SALISBURY — There are nights when coach Jim Gantt can see all the untapped potential in Rowan County’s division-leading American Legion baseball team.
And there are others when he sees reality. On Friday he saw a little bit of each at Newman Park, where RC hung on for a 6-4 win over Mooresville.
“Look at us,” Gantt said after Rowan (16-6, 12-4) remained half-a-game ahead of Mocksville in the Southern Division standings. “We didn’t play particularly well. We didn’t get a hit after the third inning. Our starting pitcher wasn’t real sharp. And yet we won the game. That’s all you can say — we won.”
Rowan won because infielders Avery Rogers and Ashton Fleming delivered clutch, two-out hits early in the game. And because its shut-down bullpen didn’t allow a run over the last 3 2/3 innings.
But perhaps the key to this victory was Nick Keith’s injured right hand. A deep bruise or possibe fracture forced Mooresville’s everyday third-baseman out of the starting lineup. But by the third inning Post 66 coach Josh Graham needed a reliever to spell ineffective starter John Stires and called Keith’s number.
“We needed him tonight,” Graham said after Mooresville (12-7 overall) fell to 10-6 in the league. “He can’t swing a bat, but he sure can throw it.”
He sure did. Using a hammer curve and a parachute changeup, Keith retired 19 of the 21 batters he faced. He set down the side in order five times, struck out 11, walked none and yielded only Will Sapp’s third-inning infield hit.
“Whatever his injury was, it made him more effective because his ball never had that much movement before,” said Gantt. “I mean, he’s good. He’s always been good. But I’m glad they didn’t start him. We might have never scored. When you’re facing a pitcher who’s got his good stuff, you just have to find a way. That’s basically what we did.”
Rowan’s lineup produced only five hits, but all of its fireworks came in the second and third innings. Luke Thomas doubled home the game’s first run and then, after Matt Mauldin reached on an outfielder’s error, Rogers made it 3-0 with a soft-serve, two-out, two-run double into right field.
An inning later Taylor Garczynski was safe on an infield error that loaded the bases and Rogers coaxed a four-pitch walk. Then Fleming smashed a two-out, two-run single up the middle, extending Rowan’s lead to 6-0.
“The first pitcher wasn’t bad,” Rogers said. “He just had an off-night. Sometimes after playing all these games in a row, you’ve gotta fight through everything and find a way to win.”
The victory went to lefthander Zach Simpson, who improved to 5-0 despite a subpar performance. He allowed six hits and all four Mooresville runs — three of them earned — while walking three in 5 1/3 innings.
“I really didn’t do anything differently,” he said afterward. “I know I couldn’t find the zone early, but that got overlooked because we scored six runs early.”
Perhaps this was an indication of just how good Rowan can be. It played well below its usual level, yet still prevailed. “The bottom line,” Simpson noted, “is we’re winning.”
Gantt put a slightly different spin on it. “I know one thing,” he said. “If the worst thing they can say about our team and our players is that we’re winners, then we’re in pretty good shape.”
Or as Graham pointed out, “They just know how to win. They’re always standing at the end.”

NOTES: Rowan closes its regular season with two games against Kannapolis — home on Sunday and at Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium on Monday. The playoffs begin next Friday.