LANDIS — Officially, Austin Bracewell saved Southern Rowan’s 4-1 win against Stanly County on Sunday. Unofficially, second baseman Jacob Fulton saved it.
Winner John Daugherty (2-1) pitched seven stout innings before handing the ball to Bracewell, but this was a night where the submarining Bracewell’s stuff was almost too good. Strong Stanly hitters were beating sinkers into the ground, creating difficult-to-make-a-play-on choppers, toppers and rollers.
“You just grin and bear it, and try to throw another groundball,” said SR coach Ben Hampton, shaking his head. Bracewell allowed four hits, but only one was legit.
“Slow rollers were killing us,” Bracewell said. “I was almost colliding with my fielders every play.”
Bracewell nearly allowed a fifth disastrous hit, but that’s where Fulton, who had entered the game in the eighth inning, came in.
This is the same Fulton who booted a grounder against Rowan at Newman Park that was the turning point in a league loss, but the baseball gods usually offer chances for redemption and Fulton got his.
With two on and one out in the ninth, Bracewell made a perfect pitch that jammed the hitter and created a right-side bouncer that had trouble written all over it.
Daugherty was playing first base then, and he got to the ball.
“I was playing over toward second hoping for a double-play ball, and when that ball got chopped I went running over to try to field it,” Fulton said. “When I saw he’d fielded the ball, I just kept running to cover first.”
Fulton, Bracewell and the runner arrived at the bag at the same time. Fulton turned into an acrobat, snagged Daugherty’s throw and South had a 3-4 putout on a groundball, something you see about as often as you see a talking horse.
When leadoff man Chase Poplin followed with a chopper to Dillon Parker at third base, he was out by a half-step and SR (11-7, 3-1) owned a huge divisional win.
“But if Jake doesn’t make that play he made, it might’ve gotten really ugly,” Bracewell said.
It should’ve been easier for Southern Rowan, which is 5-5 on the road but 6-2 at home.
SR banged out 15 hits but stranded 13 and left the bases loaded twice in the early innings when the opportunity was there to blow it open.
“We didn’t get the timely hits tonight, but we held a very good ballclub to one run with pitching and defense,” Hampton said. “It’s a good win, and it keeps us in position to accomplish our goals.”
SR’s defensive effort was highlighted by a diving catcher in center field by Dylan Goodman in the fourth. Goodman got to his feet and fired to first, and Ben Gragg made a scoop for a rousing double play.
Bryson Prugh and Gragg had three hits each. Gragg would’ve had four, but a bullet he smoked up the middle struck the pitching rubber and was turned into a double play.
Goodman and Dylan Carpenter had two hits each, and Connor Bridges got two RBIs by being hit by a pitch and drawing a walk with the bases loaded.
Gragg’s single, Carpenter’s hit-and-run single, Prugh’s well-struck double to the fence and Goodman’s bloop hit on a tough pitch in on his hands, led to a three-run third for SR that proved decisive.
Starter Cody McKenzie pitched three innings for Stanly (11-7, 3-1), and reliever Carson Sells kept the visitors in the game.
Daugherty looked rusty in the first, but he got out of several jams and limited Stanly to Zack Almond’s RBI single in the sixth.
“It had been a while since I’d been on the hill,” Daugherty said. “I couldn’t locate my fastball low early in the game, but I made adjustments. They had some hitters who were able to pull my outside pitches, and that surprised me. That’s a good-hitting team.”
SR hosts Rowan tonight. Dillon Atwell will pitch.
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