Rowan Legion opens against Wayne County
By Mike London
SALISBURY ó This yearís state tournament will include a whoís-who of North Carolina American Legion baseball royalty.
The final qualifier was Area II champion Wilmington Post 10, an eight-time state champion. Seven of the eight teams in the field already are 20-game winners.
Area III runner-up Rowan County is a seven-time state champion, while Area IV champion Cherryville owns six state titles.
Wayne County (the Goldsboro area) hasnít won a state title, but itís been the dominant Area I team the past decade. This is Wayneís sixth appearance in the event since the state tournament switched to a single-site format in 2000.
Rowan (23-8) opens the tournament against Wayne County (25-5) at 10 a.m. on Friday morning, playing on Puck OíNeal Field at Morehead Cityís Big Rock Stadium.
Area I runner-up Cary (23-9) is back in the state event for the second straight year, while Area IV runner-up Hickory (20-11) is in its first state tournament since 2002.
High Point (21-8) played in the state tournament as recently as 2006, although it did so as the host team, not as a standard qualifier.
This time Post 87 comes in with a whole lot of momentum, after surviving a grueling series of must-win playoff games before sweeping Rowan for the Area III title.
Host Morehead City (15-6) wonít be a pushover. This is Morehead Cityís fourth appearance in a state tournament, and it reached this yearís Area II semis before faltering.
Other games on the first day include High Point playing Cary at about 1 p.m., Hickory taking on Wilmington (29-6) at 4:30 p.m. and Cherryville (26-7) opposing Morehead City at 7:30 p.m.
Rowan has never won a state tournament that it entered as a runner-up team. Rowan won the state in 2002 (in Salisbury) and 2009 (in Greenville) when it came in as Area III champion.
Rowan has plenty of history with Wayne County, including a pair of victories against Wayne in the 2002 state event staged at Newman Park.
That was arguably Rowanís greatest team (43-2) and included three eventual pros ó Bobby Parnell, Cal Hayes Jr. and Spencer Steedley.
Hayes had three hits and two RBIs and Steedley struck out 11 in 71/3 shutout innings in a 7-1 win against Wayne in the winners bracket final.
After Wayne worked its way back to play in the championship game, Rowan took a 7-5 thriller ó its 25th consecutive victory ó to wrap up the state title. Hayes, Aaron Rimer and Jimbo Davis had two hits each, and Rimer belted a huge home run to back the pitching of Jacob Cooper, Philip Goodman and Julian Sides.
In 2007, Wayne gave a drained Rowan team one of its worst beatings ever ó 19-1 in seven innings in the state tournament in Garner.
But in 2008 in Gastonia, Rowan ripped Wayne 9-1 behind Tanner Brownís pitching and homers by the Holmes brothers, Trey and Noah.
Tournament passes will be $25. Daily passes are $10.