LANDIS — Faced with 18 innings of baseball on a hot summer day, Southern Rowan coach Ben Hampton thought he might have to use a lot of pitching.
But then he handed the ball to Aaron Bare. Overcoming some early adversity, Bare went six strong innings, fanning eight and securing a 9-4 home win over Concord in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader.
The win kept Southern in second place in the Southeast Division at 5-2, 14-8 with a showdown looming Friday night at Stanly County to settle post-season seeding. Concord will be the fourth seed in the first round as they fell to 2-5, 8-12. It traveled to Rowan Friday night to close out the Area III regular season.
Southern trailed 4-1 early but Bare righted the ship with his breaking ball and held off Concord until his offense could get untracked.
“Before the third inning I was throwing more fastballs and they were hitting those good,” Bare stated, “So I switched it to more curveballs and that seemed to work well. I knew my team would get me back in it.”
Southern finally caught Concord in the fifth with a pair of walks off Post 52 starter Justin Green followed by a clutch double to right by catcher Matt Honeycutt that tied the score. They actually took the lead for good at 5-4 on a wild pitch against the next batter.
Southern then tacked on plenty of insurance with a single run in the seventh on Dylan Goodman’s RBI double.
The icing on the cake came in the eighth when Ben Gragg drove in one run with a single followed by a long homer to left by Dylan Carpenter to make it 9-4.
Bryson Prugh was another of the hitting stars for Southern with three hits, two RBI and a run scored.
He said no one panicked with the early deficit.
“Bare did a great job and the bullpen did great too,” Prugh said. “I felt good at the plate today and everything look so big up there today.”
Gragg had two hits, three runs scored and stole three bases. Carpenter had two hits, including his homer, and Goodman drove in a pair of runs, stole two bases and had a single and double.
“Our guys settled down and made some adjustments at the plate,” Hampton said. “We went backside a little bit and moved the runners. That was really good to see.”
But Hampton saved his highest praise for Bare and his pitching success.
“It had been a while since Bare pitched but he comes to work everyday ready to go,” Hampton said. “If he gets that curve ball dialed in like he did today he can keep them off balanced.”
The eight strikeouts by Bare were a bonus for Southerhn since he normally is a ground-ball pitcher. But at one point in the middle innings, he struck out five in a row and retired nine of 10 batters.
Southern then got three solid innings of relief from three different hurlers. Billy Winecoff handled the seventh on one hit then Blake Cauble got three quick outs in the eighth. Austin Bracewell closed it out in the ninth, ending the game on a double play when he snared a line drive and whirled to catch the runner off second base.
Three errors by Southern’s defense helped Concord take its 4-1 lead in the third, as two of the runs were unearned. Jake Barbee and Parker Henderson had the key hits. But after that, the momentum swung completely back to the host team.
“We just put forth no effort,” Concord coach Tommy Smalls said of his team letting the lead slip away. “We just came out here today and were just going through the motions. I hope they wake up and get ready for tonight at Rowan.”
NOTES: Both teams were forced to play two on the final day due to a rainout the night before. … Southern’s second game at Stanly Friday night determined who would get second seed and home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
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