Legion Baseball Playoffs: High Point 8, Rowan 4 (10)
By Mike London
SALISBURY — The defining play in High Point’s 8-4, 10-inning win against Rowan County on Tuesday was — believe it or not — a base hit by Rowan.
With the scored tied 4-4 in the bottom of the eighth at Newman Park, Rowan had two out and two on when leadoff man Will Sapp slapped a groundball between third and short. Left field appeared to be the baseball’s destination, and Bryson Prugh appeared certain to score the go-ahead run from second base.
Only the ball never got through. High Point shortstop Mitch Carstens smothered it deep in the hole with a dive, and Prugh couldn’t score.
“Man, I was sure that ball was going through,” Sapp said. “And if it does go through, we probably win this ballgame. But it’s a game of inches, and that’s just how it goes.”
Carstens had a premonition that something was about to happen.
“Two seconds before he hit that ball, I knew it was coming to me,” Carstens said. “I knew I was going to have to dive or knock it down.”
Because of that play it was still tied in the 10th, and that’s when High Point scored four times to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
Dakota Brown took a tough loss. Relieving starter Clint Veal to begin the fourth inning, he was still out there firing when the 10th started.
“It was an unfortunate outcome for Dakota because he did pitch really well,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “He kept a good-hitting lineup off-balance with his changeup.”
Brown had a 4-3 lead going to the eighth, but Pete Guy tied it with a leadoff homer. Brown walked two in the eighth, but survived the inning with the help of a diving stop by third baseman Avery Rogers.
Brown danced through the ninth, but trouble arrived in the 10th.
Erik Connolly’s one-out single — his third hit — was followed by a one-hop smash by Sean Geoghegan right at Rowan shortstop Ashton Fleming’s chest.
If Fleming could have gloved it, it was a double play. If he’d been able to knock out down, it was an out. But it zipped past him to left field, and High Point had two on.
A wild pitch and a bases-filling intentional walk ended Brown’s night, and Gantt called on Ethan Free to pitch to No. 9 hitter David Newcomer, who was 0-for-4.
“Coach said he hadn’t had good swings at the breaking pitches, so we wanted to get him on a slider,” Free said.
On a slider well off the plate, Newcomer still got the bat on the ball, and the go-ahead run scored on his soft roller wide of first base.
“David knew he had to swing at just about anything there,” High Point coach Rob Shore said. “He managed to hit it in the right spot.”
That was a backbreaker, and after solid, two-out hits by Victor Zecca and Guy, Rowan (18-19) trailed 8-4.
Carstens, fittingly, won it, setting down six straight batters in the ninth and 10th.
“A lot of fans here,” Carstens said. “But more people doesn’t mean more pressure — it means more fun.”
Nick Blackwood started on the bump for High Point and gave up run-scoring hits to Jared Mathis and Rogers in the fourth. Hustling, alert baserunning by Brian Bauk, coupled with lapses by High Point’s defense, produced Rowan’s third and fourth runs.
“We made bad mistakes to give Rowan two runs,” Shore said. “But we came back from that. We have the record we do (25-5) because we’ve won a lot of games late. We’ll play hard for nine innings.”
Or 10, in this case.
High Point won mostly because a guy got dirty and kept a clean single in the infield.
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