Prep Baseball: East Rowan 1, Carson 0, 8 innings

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 6, 2012

By Mike London
GRANITE QUARRY — Carson pitcher Ethan Free shook his head and stared down at Staton Field’s green grass in dismay and disbelief.
“I feel all right about how I pitched,” he said softly. “But you can’t win if you don’t score a run.”
That’s one thing that hasn’t changed about baseball since it was invented, and Free, who threw the game of his life, still lost 1-0 to East Rowan, Carson’s long-time nemesis.
Free matched zeroes with East fireballer Bradley Robbins for seven innings in the NPC opener for both teams, and the Carson senior was one strike from escaping the eighth when Chase Hathcock lined a 1-2 pitch to right-center to chase home Connor Johnson from second base.
Johnson, who had hustled out an infield hit to start the winning rally, can really fly. East fans were screaming in triumph as soon as the ball whistled off Hathcock’s bat.
“I finally timed up one of Free’s sliders,” Hathcock said. “That guy was on tonight. He’s a great pitcher and a great competitor, and he wasn’t giving us anything.”
Besides picking off two runners, Free fanned a career-high 12.
Robbins whiffed a career-best 15.
Alex Bost, who hurled the eighth for East and got credit for the win, piled on with three more strikeouts.
That’s 30 Ks in all.
“Great ballgame with a couple of pitchers just throwing their hearts out,” Carson coach Chris Cauble said. “Ethan was sharp and our catcher (Scottie Hinson) did a great job, but we’ve got to find some way to muster more offense. We’ve got to find a way to have some quality at-bats.”
The guys who had quality at-bats for Carson (2-2, 0-1) were Hinson, who walked twice, and Greg Tonnesen, who was a nightmare for Robbins. Tonnesen had a ferocious, foul-’em-off, 15-pitch at-bat before drawing a two-out walk in the second inning.
“I let Bradley throw more pitches than I’ve ever let a kid throw,” said subdued East coach Brian Hightower. “He threw too many, and it was Tonnesen that killed us. He saw 21 pitches in his first two at-bats. That ran Bradley’s pitch-count way up there.”
Robbins struck out the side in the first. Free matched him.
The tone was set.
After Tonnesen’s marathon walk, Carson loaded the bases in the second, but Robbins got K.J. Pressley to bounce to short to end the inning.
Free left East runners stranded at third base in the second and third innings, and with no balls being squared up and with very few even being put in play on a cold night, it was becoming clear that whoever scored first would win.
Robbins breezed through the fourth. So did Free.
Robbins got help in the fifth from catcher Nathan Fulbright, who gunned down a basestealer. Free gave up singles to Robbins and Hunter Brooks in the bottom half, but he fanned the side.
The top of the sixth was tense, but Robbins pumped a fist after striking out cleanup man Colton Laws with runners at second and third.
“I felt great, and Carson’s our biggest rival now,” Robbins said. “It was just a great pitching duel. I knew I had to keep them from scoring until our hitting came around.”
Free had a quick sixth, with the aid of Hinson. He shot down Andy Austin who had gotten a nice jump, trying to steal second.
Tonnesen beat out a bunt to open the seventh, but Robbins fanned the side, and his dominating night was over.
Free handled the bottom of the seventh himself — with two strikeouts and a pickoff.
Bost took the hill for the eighth with some pressure on him. Give up a run, and he’d be remembered as the first Mustang to lose to Carson.
“First game I’ve pitched this year that counted on the records and I was really quite nervous,” Bost said.
But he did his job.
Then East finally broke through. With one out, Johnson beat out a chopper by a step. Then he moved up 90 critical feet when a high pitch glanced off Hinson’s mitt.
Free fanned Ashton Fleming for the second out, but then Hathcock delivered, and East (2-0, 1-0) moved to 14-0 all-time against the Cougars.