LANDIS — So far, at least, a name change hasn’t paid any dividends for Southern Rowan in its frustrating series with Rowan County.
Rowan’s 6-3 road victory on Monday at the South Rowan field wasn’t especially pretty or memorable or exciting, but it was a victory that gave Rowan a 5-0 record in the Southeast Division of Area III and a 31-8 lead in the 18-year cross-county series.
Rowan wasn’t supposed to sweep the home-and-home series this time — not with Carson and South Rowan combining for 43 wins in the high school season — but it happened.
“No excuses, we just didn’t play well enough to beat them,” Southern Rowan coach Ben Hampton said. “We had some defensive blunders, and when we had runners on base, we didn’t execute at the plate.”
Rowan (13-7) never trailed.
Hunter Brooks drove in two runs with a second-inning double and a third-inning single, while Chance Bowden, who always seems to knock in two, drove in another pair with a third-inning double and a fourth-inning sacrifice fly.
Rowan scored its first five runs against two-time county pitcher of the year Dillon Atwell (4-2), who allowed eight hits in six innings.
On paper, Southern had the pitching advantage, with Atwell matched up with lefty Justin Evans, but Evans (2-0), a West Rowan product headed to Carson-Newman, handled the hype, big-game pressure and early drizzle really well and threw five bulldog innings.
“I guess I’m one up on some guys I know, but I treated it like just another game,” Evans said. “The key was getting ahead of their hitters a lot, and I had a changeup that was breaking down pretty well.”
While Southern (11-8, 3-2) put three on the scoreboard against Evans, the only earned run came in the third when Tyler Fuller, Ben Gragg and Dylan Carpenter produced three straight two-out hits.
“Evans did a great job,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “The scoreboard didn’t really tell how well he did because he had to pitch around errors. But he kept his composure, and he’d always come back with another good pitch.”
Salisbury High youngster Riley Myers, who earned his second save, was overwhelming in relief after taking the mound in the sixth. He allowed two infield singles. He fanned six and struck out the side in the ninth.
“It was a rival game, and I had some extra adrenaline tonight,” Myers said. “Plus, I hadn’t pitched in a while. I felt good and I felt strong.”
Myers got some help from right fielder Taylor Garczysnki, who made the key defensive play of the game in the seventh when Carpenter lashed a ball hard to right- center with SR down 5-3 and Gragg on second base.
If that ball had fallen in, the tying runs would’ve been on base with one out, but Garczynski made a sliding catch.
“It was a do-or-die play,” Garczysnki said. “It was a close ballgame, so I decided to go after it.”
Garczynski hasn’t been lucky finding holes and has been under .200 at the plate all year, but Gantt has kept him in the lineup for his speed and defensive skills.
“You can’t give up,” Garczynski said. “Slumps are part of the game. You just go out there and keep grinding.”
SR reliever Billy Winecoff put zeroes on the board in the seventh and eighth, but an opposite-field double by Garczynski provided the insurance run in the ninth that made it 6-3.
Maybe that clutch hit will be a streak-starter for Garczynski.
“Too many guys base their night on their batting average,” Gantt said. “He can go get the ball in right field, and he can throw. We bat him ninth, not because he’s struggling, but because he’s like another leadoff guy.”