Prep Baseball: East Rowan 11, South Rowan 6

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 20, 2012

By Mike London
LANDIS— Serving a suspension at his Statesville home on Friday, East Rowan coach Brian Hightower had to be reasonably certain assistant John McNeil had taken leave of his senses.
Hightower probably jumped high enough to bump his head on a ceiling when he got the word that Hunter Poston was heading to the plate as a pinch-hitter in the top of the seventh, with the bases loaded, one out, and the score tied 6-6 at South Rowan.
Poston’s season stats — 0-for-2 — but he would deliver the key at-bat in East’s 11-6 victory in a three-hour NPC marathon.
“McNeil told me he was giving me one swing,” Poston said. “After that, the squeeze was going to be on.”
Poston got a pitch to hit from South hurler Aaron Bare, but he fouled it off.
It was time to squeeze.
“I got a fastball inside and I was able to move my hands enough to get a decent bunt down,” Poston explained. “Just doing my job.”
It was a bunt that is likely to lift East to another NPC championship.
Third baseman Matt Miller fielded it, acrobatically spun in the air and fired the ball to catcher Eric Tyler, but pinch-runner Michael Caldwell was already sliding across the plate with a zany game’s biggest run.
Before South could get out of that disastrous inning, a run-scoring wild pitch and RBI singles by Ashton Fleming, Andy Austin and Nathan Fulbright gave the Mustangs (11-9, 7-3) a secure five-run lead. Then Jared Mathis closed things out in the bottom half of the inning and made a winner out of Bradley Robbins (5-1), who was far from his best form.
“Bradley was cramping and struggling, but he did his best,” Mathis said. “It felt really good to save it, and I’m not really even tired. I’d be ready to go again right now.”
South (13-9, 5-6), fighting for its playoff life, overcame deficits of 2-0 and 6-3 to pull into that ill-fated 6-all tie. The Raiders had only five hits — including two each by Miller and Tyler — but they patiently worked 11 walks.
“Offensively, the way we battled on every at-bat and got our bunts down, this was our best game of the season,” South coach Thad Chrismon said. “As tough a loss as this is, as much as it hurts, we laid it all out there on the field. It was a great effort by our guys, and I’ll sleep OK.”
East got tremendous games from Fleming and Austin — offensively and defensively.
Fleming was 4-for-4 and knocked in three runs. Austin, officially recovered from an earlier slump, drilled three hits.
“That game was a fight, just a long, tough grind,” Fleming said. “We came out with intensity. The gameplan was to get deep into South’s pitching staff, and that’s exactly what we did.”
Dillon Parker started on the mound for South and took a 3-2 lead to the fifth. He got some defensive help that inning when right fielder Tyler Fuller and first baseman Bubba McLaughlin teamed for a remarkable relay to the plate that cut down Chase Hathcock trying for an inside-the-park home run.
But East smoked four straight hits off Parker, lefty reliever Austin Holbrook couldn’t put out he fire, and the Mustangs got four in the fifth. Mathis’ RBI single made it 5-3, and East got a huge sixth run when courtesy runner Ty Beck escaped a rundown between third and home, a bizarre play that led to a protracted argument between Chrismon and the umpiring crew.
Tyler’s triple keyed a two-run sixth for South, but then Poston’s squeeze turned the tide.
“Hightower is our fire, and we messed up and lost Tuesday (at North Iredell) without him,” McNeil said. “But all 19 of our kids showed up to play tonight.”