Legion Baseball Playoffs: High Point 6, Rowan 5
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Leading off the bottom of the ninth, Rowan County slugger Andy Austin got a 3-1 pitch exactly where he would’ve ordered it from room service, but he skied it to the first baseman in foul territory.
Two quick outs later, Rowan’s 11-game streak was history.
“That pitch was in, a meat pitch for me, really,” Austin said. “But sometimes you hit ’em and sometimes you just miss ’em.”
Austin smacked two doubles, but Saturday was mostly a miss for Rowan, which out-hit High Point 11 to 6 but still lost 6-5 at Newman Park.
High Point, drained from playing seven straight nights and with its pitching staff running on empty, managed to grab a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Area III championship series.
“We started out slow, couldn’t get the runners in, and then they had that one big inning,” said Rowan center fielder Will Sapp, who collected three hits. “They’re a good team and they made some good defensive plays.”
Rowan, which hadn’t tasted defeat since June 25, lost in the most painful way possible. High Point’s DeSean Anderson scored the decisive run without a hit. He was plunked by Rowan reliever Bradley Robbins leading off the eighth, accelerated like an Indy car to steal second shortly after limping to first base and scored after two wild pitches.
Rowan (23-7) missed getting the equalizer by an inch in the bottom of the eighth when Justin Morris flied to right with the bases loaded and one out. Tagging from third, Avery Rogers was deemed out after an accurate throw by Jonathan Bethea — a call that angered the jeerleaders in the bleachers.
“That ball really wasn’t deep enough for us to tag,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said quietly. “I knew as soon as he caught it that if the throw didn’t short-hop and was on line, Avery was going to be out.”
Rowan had another runner narrowly thrown out at the plate in the fourth when Morris dashed for home on what would’ve been a wild pitch.
“It’s always easy to belly-ache and blame umpires,” Gantt said. “But the bottom line is High Point did more than we did. They were down at the bottom of their pitching staff, but they made more pitches and made more plays.”
Tyler Britton, who hadn’t started a game all summer, got his team into the sixth. Seth Beane took the baton from there. His season stats didn’t look impressive, but he was a belief pitcher as well as a relief pitcher. He got it done.
Unbeaten Thomas Allen started on the hill for Rowan and struggled for a while.
“I just didn’t feel on,” Allen said. “But as the innings went by, I got it going pretty good.”
Allen needed a double-play bouncer to escape a mess in the first, and High Point (20-8) got five runs in the second.
A hit batsman, a walk, an infield hit and a fielder’s choice produced one HP run. Then Houston Isom blooped a two-run single, and Michael Whited hit his 13th homer of the summer on a towering fly that cleared the wall in right-center.
Allen shut out High Point for the next five innings. That gave Rowan a chance to rally.
“Thomas was feeling his way for a while,” Gantt said. “But then he settled in.”
Taylor Garczynski’s two-run, opposite-field double in the third inning made it 5-2.
“Got a first-pitch fastball and that’s what I was looking for,” Garczynski said.
Austin drilled a wicked, two-run double on a pitch down and in, in the fourth. Sapp’s double scored Rogers in the sixth for the 5-5 tie.
Garczynski, the right fielder, turned in a defensive highlight with a powerful, soaring throw home to catcher Nathan Fulbright to erase a runner trying to score from second after a base hit eluded a diving Sapp in the sixth inning.
“Will had the best angle and dived for the ball,” Garczynski said. “I was there to back him up and made the throw. I guess it was a high throw because the umpire joked with me. He said, ‘We really didn’t need any rain tonight.’ ”
It was a scary peg. It still wasn’t enough. After Austin just missed that pitch leading off the ninth, Luke Thomas struck out and Fulbright bounced to second.
“Tough loss,” Austin said. “When you hit better than the other team and still lose the ballgame, it’s tough.”
Lefty Zack Simpson will pitch tonight for Rowan at High Point’s Finch Field.