Shaw column: For Rowan, a game to forget

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 16, 2011

SALISBURY — Don’t shed any tears for Rowan County’s American Legion baseball team.
Saturday’s one-run loss at Newman Park was only Game 1 of a series that carries little weight in the big picture. It’s sort of a Seinfeld episode — a show about nothing.
What’s more, High Point 6 and Rowan 5 was probably a well deserved and just outcome. At least, that’s how both head coaches saw it.
“The way we played — hitting people, walking people — you’re gonna lose,” Jim Gantt said after RC’s 11-game winning streak was curbed. “It comes down to them executing and us not executing. You can yell at the umpire all you want. I still call it bad baseball.”

Perhaps, but it provided terrific, edge-of-your-seat drama. Consider that Post 87 was playing for the seventh consecutive night. Its pitching staff was so depleted head coach Rob Shore handed the ball to Tyler Britton, the No. 6 man in his rotation and the humble owner of a 14.40 pre-game ERA.
“All of my starters have pitched on two days rest all week,” Shore reported. “It’s an understatement that we didn’t have our best on the mound. But to do what we did — go to Randolph and beat them twice in a row, then come here and beat Rowan — it absolutely amazes me. Then I realize it’s what we’ve been doing all year long.”
They won last night by prevailing on the game’s two most important plays. The first came in the with the score tied 5-5 in the bottom of the eighth inning. Let’s set the scene:
Reliever Bradley Robbins greeted High Point’s DeSean Anderson by firing a piping-hot fastball into the already-injured first-baseman’s back. As he hobbled toward the bag, Anderson flashed a wounded-animal sneer toward the mound.
“I wasn’t mad that he hit me,” Anderson, a soft cast fastened to his right ankle, later recalled. “I was mad that my previous at-bats weren’t up to my standards.”

Fair enough. Anderson, a .400 hitter who didn’t get the ball out of the infield all night, probably had a legitimate excuse — a ligament injury suffered on a slide Tuesday night in Asheboro. Strange that after taking one for the team he looked like a cheetah at dinnertime as he quicky swiped second base against Robbins.
“I saw the slow leg kick to the plate and figured if I could just go 60 percent, I could get there,” he reasoned.
A wild pitch moved Anderson to third and another brought him tumbling home with the go-ahead run.
“Tie score in the eighth and the bottom of the order coming up,” he explained. “I had to put my team first. I didn’t want to waste the opportunity. But when I scored, man, I couldn’t take the pain any more.”

Neither could Rowan’s rambunctious fan base. It cheered wildly in the last of the eighth when RC put runners on second and third with just one away. And as shortstop Justin Morris stepped in — his .361 batting average swirling in the autumn-like air — everyone sensed a golden opportunity was knocking.
“It sure was,” Gantt said.
Instead, Rowan’s elation turned to despair when Morris hoisted a fly ball to shallow right field. High Point’s Jonathan Bethea — dislocated thumb and all — camped under the ball and remembered setting his feet.
“I crow-hopped it and got just enough body behind it,” he said with a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming smile. “And then it was such an adreneline rush. I threw it right to his glove.”
That would be one fitted on HP catcher Houston Ison’s left hand. As Rowan’s Avery Rogers came barrelling down the line after tagging up, the game’s defining moment loomed just seconds away.
“As soon as I saw the ball go out there to Jonathan, my first thought was tie ballgame,” Shore said. “He’s got a brace on his thumb. It hurts him to throw. But then as I watched his throw, I started thinking, ‘Hey that ball’s gonna make it.’ ”
Ison snagged the throw a step up the third-base line and applied a sweeping tag that barely caught the outstretched Rogers — sliding head first — on the inside shoulder, completing an inning-ending double play.
At least, that’s how the plate umpire saw it.
“You couldn’t ask for a better throw,” Ison said. “Everything was basically a blur to me, but that was huge. It was almost unbelievable.”
Perhaps there’s a reason for that.
“A lot of people on our side thought Rogers got under the tag,” Gantt said. “I was hoping the ball would bounce, or maybe skip by the catcher, just to make it less confusing.”

This much is clear: Rowan finds itself a game down in this money-fueled, best-of-three series, facing an upstart team that’s won 19 of its last 23 games and suddenly believes anything is possible.
“Baseball works in mysterious ways,” said Anderson. “I’m just glad it’s working out for us.”