F&M Bank Classic: East Rowan 2, Robinson 0

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 13, 2012

By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS — A 1-0 baseball lead is normally precarious, but East coach Brian Hightower wasn’t perched on edge of the dugout biting his fingernails.
“Once I saw the way Bradley Robbins was throwing the ball, I knew one run would probably do it,” he said. “And once we were able to scratch out two runs, I actually felt pretty comfortable.”
Robbins was at his best on Friday at CMC-NorthEast Stadium — and his best is great.
If the senior hadn’t been brilliant, the Mustangs (10-7) would’ve lost because Robinson’s Clemson-bound right-hander Brody Koerner simply overwhelmed East’s lineup most of the afternoon.
East’s 2-0 victory, considering the stuff the opposing pitcher had, was one of the highlights of its season.
“I’ve known Brody since we were at State Games, he was good then, and he’s progressed even more,” Robbins said. “I knew this would be a pitching duel, and I knew I’d have to hold a good ballteam down. Fortunately, it was one of those days where I felt great and everything worked.”
Hightower has ridden Robbins to enough huge NPC wins that the Mustangs are in position to take another conference title. He wasn’t looking for a complete game from him in the F&M Bank Classic, but competitive juices were overflowing all over the diamond.
“We didn’t want to tax Bradley like we would in a conference game,” Hightower said. “We had set a limit of 90 pitches, but he was at 84 after six innings, and he really wanted that seventh.”
Robbins took care of the seventh, finishing with a tidy four-hitter, seven strikeouts and only one walk. He fired 97 pitches in a game that was over in a blink.
“He was lights out,” East catcher Nathan Fulbright said. “Bradley had his stuff and he could spot everything. It was a perfect performance.”
East’s offense didn’t have much in common with perfection, but it managed to produce a run in the first inning.
Ashton Fleming’s bouncing single was followed by Fulbright’s bloop single, and when Andy Austin’s chopper to shortstop was mishandled, the Mustangs had the bases full.
When a high fastball sailed on Koerner and glanced off the top of catcher Austin Bundy’s mitt, the Mustangs put a precious run on the scoreboard.
Another hit by Fulbright — the last one East would get — came in the third inning and led to the second run. This time the Mustangs scratched with the assistance of a passed ball and a throwing error.
“Koerner is pretty darn good — he’s not going to Clemson for no reason,” Fulbright said. “But he wasn’t throwing a lot of breaking balls for strikes, so I eliminated that and tried to work with just his fastball. I was able to make some decent contact with two of them.”
Robinson (11-6) never got a runner to third base, and the only serious threat was stifled by Robbins. He somehow stabbed Philip Perry’s liner up the middle in the sixth while falling down and turned a sure base hit into a rally-ending double play.
“He hit it hard,” Robbins said. “I’m just glad I had good reaction time.”
The classy Koerner, who fanned 13, had nothing but praise for Robbins.
“It was really a tough one to lose, but we lost to the best pitcher we’ve seen all year,” Koerner said. “Bradley had to be throwing 90, and it’s hard to get your hands started quickly enough to hit his fastball. And his slider starts around your back hip, and just when you’re sure it’s going to hit you, it breaks over the plate.”
Hightower was thankful for two unearned runs and a momentum-building win.
“The pitcher we beat today was absolutely great — the real deal,” he said. “We knew we wouldn’t get much, but we got enough.”