Legion baseball: Rowan vs. Mocksville preview
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Mocksville is next for the Rowan County American Legion team — or maybe we should say Rowan is next for a Mocksville club that has bulldozed Area III during the last month.
The best-of-five, second-round series starts tonight at 7 at Mando Field in Mocksville’s Rich Park, with Game 2 scheduled for Newman Park on Tuesday.
Both teams swept a first-round series, with Mocksville dispatching Concord and Rowan ousting the Mooresville Legends.
Historically, a Rowan-Mocksville matchup has been like Clemson vs. UNC basketball in Chapel Hill — all one way. It’s been like Marshal Matt Dillon vs. Deputy Chester Goode or maybe Fred Flintstone vs. Barney Rubble.
Rowan has literally won them all. The programs have run into each other in the playoffs an astounding 15 times since 1982, and Rowan is 15-0.
And to be honest, none of those 15 had Rowan fans chewing their fingernails.
Still, Rowan coach Jim Gantt will be the first to tell you that what happened last summer or five years ago or 30 years ago doesn’t have a heck of a lot to do with what is going to happen this week.
This is not a typical Mocksville team. Nor is this a typical Rowan County team.
Mocksville (22-6) is seeded first in the Southern Division of Area III playoffs for a reason. In the home-and-home marathon that constitutes the Legion regular season and defines who the best team is, Mocksville won its first division championship since 1993 going away — by three games.
Mocksville won at full strength, and it won short-handed. After beach trips, Mocksville won its final 10 league games to go 16-2, and it would’ve been 17-1 had Kannapolis’ Corey Seager not done superhuman stuff when the teams clashed in Mocksville.
Mocksville won both regular-season meetings with Rowan — and won handily.
Mocksville jumped out 8-1 at Newman Park and cruised 9-5 behind Ryan Foster. Rowan got three in the ninth against the bullpen to make it look closer than it was.
Then Foster blew Rowan away with 15 strikeouts in a dominating, complete-game shutout in the rematch.
Mocksville has pitching. Mocksville has defense. Mocksville has hitting.
Fifth-seeded Rowan (15-15) has pitching. Rowan usually has defense. Rowan only occasionally hits. Rowan’s starting lineup is speckled with players batting under .200 and RBI- leader Chance Bowden is still out with a wrist injury.
Mocksville is favored in this series because of its bats. It’s been like Mocksville is still swinging metal rather than BBCOR bats. Sluggers Corey Randall and Connor Bodenhamer have mighty numbers.
Coach Charles Kurfees’ Mocksville team has talent.
Foster and Randall were leaders for a strong Davie County High team. Both made the 4A All-State squad. Both can hit and pitch and both are headed to Division I schools. Foster signed with UNC Wilmington, while Randall is headed to UNC Asheville.
Karch Arey is an ideal leadoff guy. Catcher/reliever Will Beeson will play at Catawba. Former Davie star Bodenhamer, who’s at Surry Community College, was Area III Player of the Year in 2011, and likely will go on to play for a four-year program.
And it’s not like it’s just a Davie County High team.
Infielder Jacob Walker is a product of Calvary Baptist Day School in Winston-Salem and signed with Gardner-Webb. Infielder Ben Temple goes to Forbush, where he’s a terrific all-round athlete.
Then there are the West Rowan guys. Michael Ball and Matt Miller have boosted Mocksville’s staff, while Nick Collins went on a hitting tear late in the season.
Having said all that, it’s not like Rowan doesn’t have a chance to win this series.
For one thing, Foster can’t pitch every game.
For another, Mocksville hasn’t seen Rowan play anywhere close to its ‘A’ game yet, and Rowan finally has all its pitchers healthy.
Mocksville hasn’t seen Brian Bauk or Alex Bost on the bump, and Mocksville hasn’t liked what it’s seen of Avery Rogers. Rogers’ two relief stints vs. Mocksville have included no hits and three strikeouts.
Bauk’s return from an operation to remove a lump behind his shoulder, changed things. He likely will be Rowan’s starter tonight, with Greg Tonnesen in left field.
Bost getting his elbow healthy and staying healthy also has made a difference. With Bost available to close with his outstanding stuff, it’s given Rowan the flexibility to use Rogers, who’s been untouchable, as either a starter or reliever.
“Our pitching staff is a whole lot stronger than it was earlier in the summer,” Bost said. “I think this staff is pretty underrated right now.”
Everyone agrees Rowan is better than its record, and it’s true it faced a steady diet of aces in the regular season.
A series is a different ballgame than the regular season.
For all those who feared they wouldn’t live long enough to see an exciting Rowan-Mocksville series — the wait should finally be over.