Published 12:00 am Friday, July 5, 2013

ALBEMARLE — The bad weather finally decided to take a break but Southern Rowan now finds their Legion baseball season in jeopardy of a sudden ending.
Stanly County Post 76 combined timely hitting and the shutdown pitching of Cody McKenzie to claim a 6-2 win Thursday night at home and now lead Southern 2-0 in their best-of-five opening round Area III series.
McKenzie, a West Montgomery righthander, handcuffed Southern on three hits through the first seven innings, using his full array of pitches and a rock- solid defense to put Stanly (14-9) in the driver’s seat.
“When I saw the umpire was not giving me ‘up’ in the strike zone, I started working low and that caused a lot of ground balls.” McKenzie said.
The result was 10 groundouts in 7 2/3 innings of work to go along with five strikeouts.
“More than anything my change-up worked tonight but being able to have all four pitches working waqs good for me.”
The only Southern player to solve McKenzie was Dylan Carpenter, who went 3-for-4 including a two-run single in the top of the eighth that chased the Stanly starter. But by then they trailed 6-2 and only had three outs left.
“We just didn’t hit it as good tonight as we usually do,” Carpenter said.
Southern (13-10) got its own decent outing from Dillon Parker, who went six innings and allowed just three earned runs but coach Ben Hampton felt his team needed to produce at the plate.
“Parker pitched well, as did Atwell the night before,” he said, “But we have got to produce something at the plate to back them up. Otherwise we don’t give ourselves a chance.”
Stanly did get those timely hits in the third inning when they expanded a 1-0 lead to 4-0 on four singles and a fielder’s- choice RBI. McKenzie, Clay Fesperman and Dylan Dowdy had the key hits.
Southern had a big threat in the seventh when it put runners on the corners with no outs on Carpenter’s single and a throwing error.
But they key defensive play of the game followed when Dylan Goodman hit a sharp grounder to thirdbaseman Brian Blanton. He tagged Carpenter who had strayed off the bag, then threw across the diamond to complete a double play.
McKenzie then fanned John Daugherty looking to end Southern’s only true threat.
Stanly County responded with two more insurance runs off reliever Aaron Bare in the seventh to make the score 6-0. Fesperman drove in one with a single, then Rusty Brown scored from third on a wild pitch.
Southern did break through in the eighth off McKenzie as Parker and Connor Bridges stroked singles and Ben Gragg walked to load the bases. Carpenter’s big hit followed but Chase Poplin came on in relief to strike out Matt Honeycutt and snuff out the threat.
Southern also loaded the bases in the ninth off Poplin but left them stranded.
“McKenzie was just outstanding today and Chase did a great job out of the pen,” Stanly coach Derek Barringer said. “That is probably the most intensity we have had as a team all season tonight.”
The two teams now meet for Game 3 tonight at the South Rowan field and a Stanly win ends the year for Southern.
“It is always good to be up 2-0 in a series,” Barringer said, “but it is definitely not over until the last out is made.”
Hampton could only rely on the cliches to describe his team’s dilemma.
“There is no tomorrow, it is do-or-die and we have got to win to live,” he said. “We’ll come back and try to refocus, get one win and try to get back in this thing. I just hope the weather holds off.”