Prep Baseball: East Rowan 2, Carson 0
By Mike London
CHINA GROVE — Following a brisk game, East Rowan pitcher Bradley Robbins jogged toward the Carson dugout to embrace a good friend — opposing hurler Josh Martin.
Robbins, the county’s dominant pitcher in 2011, and Martin, the county’s best during the first half of 2012, staged quite a duel on Friday. Neither team scored for five innings, but the Mustangs finally got to Martin to win 2-0.
“Martin threw a heck of game,” said East’s hitting hero Roby Holmes. “But it’s hard to be better than Robbins.”
Robbins has pitched overpowering games before, but this may have been his best.
Colton Laws scratched out a single to open the Carson second. The only other baserunner the Cougars managed was Greg Tonnesen’s walk to start the seventh.
“Josh pitched awesome, mixed it up well, and our defense was very strong, especially our outfielders tracking flyballs,” Carson coach Chris Cauble said. “But we’ve got to put more balls in play.”
Robbins (2-1) had nine strikeouts, bumping his total for his senior season to 57. He lowered his ERA to 2.15.
“Bradley was throwing his breaking ball for strikes, and when he does that, he’s about unhittable,” East coach Brian Hightower said. “He was masterful. One hit and one walk is pretty masterful, and as a team we got back to playing East baseball — great pitching, great defense and a couple of timely hits.”
At times, Carson (8-5, 3-4 NPC) has looked like a monster — the Cougars 10-run-ruled West Rowan and South Rowan, two teams that beat East — but they haven’t been able to touch Robbins.
“I do seem to pitch well against Carson,” Robbins said. “I was just a lot more relaxed tonight than I have been in some earlier games.”
Robbins had reasons to be calm and confident. He shut out Carson for seven innings when East beat the Cougars 1-0 in extra frames in Granite Quarry on March 6. He also won a 3-1 tussle with Martin at Carson last season.
Baserunners were scarce. After his hit, Laws advanced on Connor Bridges’ sacrifice bunt, but that was the only time the Cougars got a close look at second base.
“Everything was working for Bradley tonight,” East catcher Nathan Fulbright said. “His slider was filthy, and he could throw it any count. That’s huge. Even if he got behind, he didn’t have to come in with a fastball.”
Martin (4-1) mowed down the first nine Mustangs.
East loaded the bases in the fourth on an error, Fulbright’s hit-and-run single and a walk, but Martin, always a bulldog, got Robbins to fly out to right field to end the inning.
After Martin worked a 1-2-3 fifth, he owned 33 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run, but East’s sixth decided the game.
The key was Connor Johnson’s one-out walk. Balls three and four could’ve easily been called the other way.
After Andy Austin lined out, Martin worked carefully to Fulbright and walked him.
Cauble visited the mound. Martin was tiring, but how can you take out a guy who never allows a run?
But then he allowed one when Holmes rocketed a 1-0 pitch down the right-field line for a ground-rule double. That hit would’ve scored two runs if the ball hadn’t bounded over the fence.
“He’d been coming inside and I’d been too passive,” Holmes said. “Coach told me he’d try to come in again. I was ready and I capitalized.”
Martin knew that the way Robbins was throwing, the game was likely over.
“I’d started losing my mechanics and my movement some by the sixth,” he said. “That fastball to Holmes was supposed to run, but it just kind of stayed straight, and it’s a lot easier to hit the straight ones. But give him credit. He hit it good.”
East tacked on insurance in the seventh after Hunter Brooks singled. Pinch-runner Michael Caldwell came around on a bounceout and two wild pitches. On his journey, Caldwell was called safe on a very close play at third that left Cougars in disbelief.
East (6-5, 4-2) beat Carson for the 15th straight time and is right back in the NPC race. Carson, after back-to-back NPC setbacks, is reeling.
“We can’t even say we’re contenders,” Cauble said. “Right now, we’re just fighting for a playoff spot.”