Prep baseball: W. Iredell 5, S. Rowan 0
By Mike London
LANDIS — South Rowan catcher Eric Tyler solemnly dragged the home-plate area after Monday’s 5-0 loss —an easier job than hitting against West Iredell’s Sean Grant.
Grant, a lefty headed to Catawba, dominated the Raiders in the first round of the NPC tourney, and his teammates swung crisply and fielded flawlessly.
“They’re a completely different team when he pitches,” Tyler said. “When he’s on, he’s on, and they play with confidence. He’s right there with (East Rowan’s) Bradley Robbins as far as the toughest guys we face.”
Fourth-seeded South (15-10) still goes to the 3A playoffs as long as fifth-seeded West Iredell (11-9) doesn’t win the tournament.
“If we do get that call for the playoffs, we’ve got to be a lot sharper,” South coach Thad Chrismon said. “Grant was phenomenal, but we didn’t play well enough and didn’t battle hard enough.”
There was more pressure on West Iredell, but the Warriors also had incentive. If they didn’t win, their season was over and seniors such as Grant and catcher Sam Marshall would never put on the green and gold again.
“Our playoffs started tonight,” WI coach Randy Martin said. “South is tough, and we had to pitch Sean to get through this one. There was nothing to save him for. There wasn’t a tomorrow if we didn’t win tonight.”
The NPC Player of the Year award won’t be announced until after every team in the league wraps up its season, but it will be a surprise if Grant isn’t honored for the second year in a row. Last night’s effort was his ninth complete game and his fourth shutout.
He’s walked only 10 batters all season and didn’t walk any Raiders on Monday. He struck out six to boost his season total to 82.
Grant’s record is only 6-4 because the Warriors are batting .247 as a team. He lost 1-0 at Carson last week.
“We like our chances when he pitches, but we haven’t gotten Sean run support,” Martin said. “We had double-digit hits tonights, and that’s the first time in a long time that’s happened.”
South threw its best hurlers, Matt Miller (4-5) and Dillon Parker, but every player in the West Iredell lineup produced a base hit.
Wingate signee Miller matched zeroes with Grant for two innings, but the swing that changed the game was a booming leadoff double by WI’s No. 9 hitter Josh Lamberth to open the third.
Brett Pope followed with a bunt single, Then Miller balked when Pope broke for second, and the Warriors had the only run Grant would need.
They weren’t done, though. Marshall punched an RBI single for a 2-0 lead in the third, and Lance Clanton homered, just the Warriors’ third long one of the season to make it 3-0 in the fourth.
“We got behind in counts, missed spots and left some pitches a little up for them to hit,” Chrismon said.
Parker relieved Miller after a leadoff walk in the fifth. Luke Elliott’s RBI single and a run-scoring wild pitch made it 5-0.
Grant did the rest. He needed only 82 pitches. He limited South to harmless singles by Parker, Tyler and Bubba McLaughlin, started a snappy double play himself in the fifth and fanned the side in the sixth.
“We’d lost three straight, but everyone stepped up tonight to keep our season going,” Grant said. “We knew we had to win and we played hard with no errors.”
Tyler, a D-I prospect, tipped his cap to Grant.
“He had command of a fastball, change, curve and slider, and he was working us in and out,” Tyler said. “All you can do is try to stay short and react to the pitch, but we just didn’t do a good enough job of it.”
WI will play No. 1 seed East Rowan on Wednesday.
South can only watch.