Prep baseball: South Rowan hopes to resume run tonight

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 21, 2012

By Mike London
LANDIS — If you embrace underdogs, South Rowan’s baseball team is a bunch you can wrap both arms around.
South (18-10) is at Weddington (23-6) tonight at 7 p.m. for a 3A West semifinal — yes, a 3A West semifinal — even though a lot of people thought  South was the North Piedmont Conference’s fifth-best team.
South split with regular-season champ East Rowan, but the Raiders were 0-2 against Carson, 0-2 against West Rowan and 1-2 against West Iredell. That’s 2-7 against their rivals. 
South was shut out six times and 10-run-ruled twice, not exactly standard statistics for a fourth-round team.
“But I thought all along this team was capable of putting a good run together,” South  coach Thad Chrismon said. “That’s what made some of the early losses so frustrating.”
Except for sophomore outfielder Tyler Fuller’s .385, South’s batting averages look like major league averages.
Wingate-bound Matt Miller, South’s ace, is just 5-5  because of 20 unearned runs. The team’s best all-round player, Eric Tyler, is a 5-foot-8 catcher  with two extra-base hits. 
The team’s most productive offensive player — Fuller — is a guy 95 percent of serious Rowan County baseball fans wouldn’t recognize if he was sitting beside them in a taxi.
And yet, here they are.
“A big reason we’re still playing is we dealt with so much adversity early,” Chrismon said. “These kids developed a thick skin because we went through so many tough games in our league. They’re resilient. They get down early now, it doesn’t bother them. They’ll keep fighting.”
South needed help from West Rowan, North Iredell and Carson just to make the playoffs — and got it. Most everyone except the Raiders expected their season to end at Marvin Ridge, a No. 1 seed, in the first round, but South put itself in position to win, got a few breaks and rallied.
South outplayed Asheboro, a fellow No. 4 seed, in the second round. 
In the third round, road warriors for the third straight time, South bunted Hickory Ridge to death, then got a grand slam when an outfielder got stuck under the fence on what ordinarily would’ve been a Bubba McLaughlin double.
No kidding. It happened.
“We have had a few things go our way,” Chrismon admitted cheerfully. “But at the same time, we’ve played  well in the playoffs.?To get this far, you either have to be really good or you’ve got to be playing really well right now.”
 South stood 3-5 after losing to Carson 11-0 at home in mid-March, but that debacle triggered change. Shortstop Dylan Goodman went to center field. Second baseman Parker Hubbard moved to shortstop. Jayvee shortstop Eric Goldston was promoted to play second base. That overhaul transformed the Raiders from below average defensively to  above average and rescued their season.
South’s march to the fourth round is the least likely playoff run in Rowan in this century — and probably of all-time.
Since 2000, 71 Rowan teams (six from Carson, 13 from each of the other five schools) have combined for five trips to the fourth round. The other four that got there — North (2000), West (2004) and East (2008,  2010) — were certified powerhouses who won their leagues. None reached the fourth round with more than five losses.
Most everyone felt the 3A West bracket was wide open this year, but what South has done is still astonishing.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Chrismon said. “But I know our guys are still hungry. None of them are thinking, ‘OK, we’ve done enough.’ ”
Weddington is expected to send  6-foot-4 sophomore Sean Collins, who has committed to Virginia, to the mound.
“Big, tall kid — quality pitcher,” Chrismon said.
Collins is the No. 2 pitcher. Weddington is a typical fourth-round team. Ace and Clemson commitment Drew Bostic beat Carson 2-1 last Friday.
South will send junior Dillon Parker (5-3) to the hill. He’s 5-0 since South shored up its defense in mid-March.
It’s worth mentioning that Parker and Tyler were starters as freshmen in 2010 when South shocked  Weddington 7-5 on the road in the first round. In baseball, you just never know.