Shaw column: Don't let Mathis fool you

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 2, 2012

SALISBURY — Rowan County pitching? At the moment it’s a solution looking for a problem — thanks largely to right-hander Jared Mathis.
Parachute into this kid’s world and you can expect a fight. Just don’t let the goofy grin on his face fool you.
“We call him Smiley,” teammate Nathan Fulbright revealed after visiting South Rowan heard seven innings of the Gospel according to Mathis last night. “Whether it’s here at the field or away from baseball, he’s always smiling. But when he gets on the mound he turns it on. He’s a machine. He’s the man.”
While Fulbright sang “The Ballad of Jaded Mathis,” the East Rowan senior kept his feelings in check. “June 4th will be a year,” he said, a reference to his mother’s passing. “I thought about her and was a little nervous, but I’m always nervous when it’s a big game. I just had to go at them tonight. It’s the only choice you have.”
Mathis has made himself a stronger, more fibrous person, though not by choice. He’s not SEAL Team 6 tough, but he’s faced true misfortune and landed on his feet. “He’s been through some battles,” noted South Rowan coach Michael Lowman.
Rowan pitching coach Sandy Moore offered a more personal glimpse of the soon-to-be East Rowan graduate.
“When Coach (Jim) Gantt and I first saw him last season, his mother had just passed away,” Moore said. “We realized this was a kid who may need baseball more than ever. So we gave him a chance.”
Mathis pitched only 5 2/3 scoreless innings and had no record for last summer’s team — a squad that placed third in the state American Legion tournament. This year he began carving a name for himself, firing an NPC no-hitter against West Iredell and posting a pedestrian 3-4 record for East.
Then came last night. In seven innings Mathis scattered three singles, induced nine groundouts and struck out seven. “It’s the best game I’ve ever pitched — at least in Legion ball,” he said with a broad postgame smile.
Lowman offered little resistance. “His pitching was better than our hitting,” he said. “He’s the story of the game.”
Mathis was matched against the battle-tested Matt Miller, the South right-hander who pitched superbly until he faltered and yielded four runs in the sixth inning. So what made Mathis — a sneak-freak who gave Rowan exactly what it needed — so effective?
“He had no pattern,” said SR’s Kyle Bridges. “He’d throw his changeup on 1-0 and 2-0 counts. In baseball lingo, he pitched backwards. He got us off-balance and kept us there. In the seventh inning he was doing exactly what he had done in the first.”
Mathis was tougher than an overdone steak in the fifth inning, when South coaxed a pair of walks with one away. When he fell behind Jordan Kennerly 3-and-1, his night was nearly finished. “It didn’t look good,” he said.
Instead he returned fire by sending a strike-three fastball dancing under Kennerly’s bat and retiring Dylan Carpenter on a lineout to center fielder Will Sapp, defusing the rally.
“He buckled down and hit his spot,” Fulbright reported. “His changeup was deadly all night. It just goes to show, you don’t have to throw 90 miles-an-hour. You just have to lock in and keep ‘em off-balance.”
And do it with a smile.