Legion Baseball: Rowan 5, South Rowan 0
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Rowan County and South Rowan are neighbors, and Rowan shortstop Ashton Fleming and South pitcher Matt Miller are family.
“He’s my cousin, so we’ve always been rivals,” explained Fleming, after Rowan beat South 5-0 to sweep a season series played on back-to-back nights.
Miller’s pitching kept South close until the bottom of the sixth at Newman Park on Saturday, but that’s when Fleming broke it open with a two-run double.
“I was begging our guys to get me some runs,” winner Jared Mathis said. “The offense finally came around.”
Rowan (6-2, 5-1) scored in the second inning on Greg Tonnesen’s RBI double.
“I noticed Miller was starting all our lefties off with fastballs, so I was sitting on one,” Tonnesen said. “I got one and hit it pretty hard.”
Mathis preserved that 1-0 lead with the help of rifle-armed third baseman Avery Rogers and center fielder Will Sapp, who gloved a sinking liner to end the South fifth with two men on base.
“Good defense,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “Mathis was throwing strikes — that’s always a big part of it — and (Nathan) Fulbright did a good job of blocking pitches.”
Miller (0-1) limited Rowan to four hits until the sixth, but Fulbright’s single, Tonnesen’s swinging bunt up the third-base line and Rogers’ line-drive hit to left filled the bases with one out.
When Chase Hathcock drew a walk to finally make it 2-0, Mathis and every Rowan fan breathed a sigh of relief.
“Hathcock drawing that walk took a lot of pressure off Fleming,” Gantt said. “Then he came through.”
Fleming, Rowan’s No. 9 hitter, had hit the ball squarely his first two times up — a single and a drive that South center fielder Dylan Goodman tracked down at the wall — and he had another good at-bat.
“Matt’s good at keeping the ball down, and I can tell he’s worked on his changeup,” Fleming said. “We were going to try to make him throw a lot of pitches tonight, and I worked it to a full count. Then he left a fastball up.”
Fleming drilled it to left-center to score two runs, and an RBI groundout by Sapp later in the inning made it 5-0.
That was plenty with Mathis looking like a different guy than the pitcher who allowed 13 hits to Wilkes at Newman Park on Monday.
“When he’s got his changeup working like it was tonight, Jared can do anything,” Fulbright said.
Mathis (1-0) fanned seven and got eight outs on groundballs. Rogers fielded six of those hoppers and choppers.
“Mathis just kind of kept us off-balance,” South DH Tyler Fuller said. “We got some hits, but it was just tough to string them together.”
Rowan now leads the all-time series 29-8 and swept South for the first time since 2009. This was the first shutout for either team in the series since Phillip Goodman and Brandon Doby blanked South 9-0 in 2002.
Mathis needed a little help. Dakota Brown pitched the eighth and worked out of a bases-loaded jam. Brian Bauk struck out the side in the ninth around a pinch-hit single by Caleb Jackson.
“I felt it tonight and my arm was still feeling good after seven innings, but my pitch count (106) got up some,” Mathis explained.
The bright spots for South were reliever Austin Bracewell (eight up, eight down) and errorless defense on the heels of a dismal effort with the gloves in Friday’s ugly 16-8 loss to Rowan. Parker Hubbard shifted from second to shortstop, trading places with Josh Martin.
“This was the best defensive game we’ve played,” Hubbard said. “We just didn’t do it with the bats.”