SALISBURY — Rowan County’s second-round playoff series with Wilkes County has become a homestand, and that’s good news for a team that hasn’t lost at Newman Park since June 11.
Rowan won 14-4 against Wilkes in eight innings at home on Monday in front of a big, noisy crowd, and Rowan, which now has won 11 straight games, will be back in the friendly confines again for Games 2 and 3 in the best-of-five series.
“We’ve gotten some rain 17 straight days, and our field is not in good shape,” Wilkes coach Terry Johnson explained. “We don’t have a big field tarp to keep the rain off, and you don’t want the kids playing on a bad field and someone getting injured. Rowan is going to help us out with expenses, and we’ve agreed to play Tuesday’s game here.”
There was a shower of Rowan runs in Game 1 to support starting pitcher Justin Evans (3-0). There was a two-run first, a four-run fourth, a six-run fifth and a two-run eighth that ended the night early.
Brian Bauk’s straight steal of home in the fourth was a highlight.
“I’ve seen that before on TV, but not in a game I was playing in,” said Rowan slugger Chance Bowden. “You just don’t expect someone do that, but Bauk’s really quick, and he got in under the tag.”
Bowden didn’t steal home, but he continued his summer onslaught against the pitching community with five RBIs to lift his season total to a team-best 38. He had a two-run single late and a two-run homer early.He crushed his fourth homer in the first inning on a 3-1 pitch.
“I was sitting on a fastball there, and I got one,” Bowden reported.
Rowan (20-7), as is often the case, did a lot of its scoring without a swing. It picked up six runs on wild pitches, Bauk’s steal, and when runners were forced to advance on HBPs and walks with the bases loaded.
Rowan accumulated 14 walks against four hurlers.
“Guys weren’t afraid to take a strike and see some pitches,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “We had some patience. No one acted like it was so urgent to swing.”
Everyone in the starting lineup reached base, as did Luke Setzer and Michael Pinkston who came off the bench.
“We’re getting a lot of baserunners by having some good at-bats,” catcher Nathan Fulbright said. “And then we’re capitalizing on the other team’s mistakes.”
Evans, a lefty headed to Carson-Newman, would’ve been tough to beat even without all that run support.
“I was locating fastballs and getting ahead,” he said. “Then I was mixing in some curves and changeups.”
Evans faced the minimum through the first three innings and fanned five.
“The layoff Evans had didn’t hurt him any,” Gantt said. “He had a really good curveball, and that made his fastball look quicker.”
Evans still had a shutout when he exited the mound to an ovation with the bases full and two outs in the sixth.
“I thought Justin had the most speed he’s had in a while,” Fulbright said. “He kept everything he threw low, and he was able to go in our out on their hitters.”
Wilkes (4-8) got its four runs in the sixth against reliever Ryan Jones. One scored on a walk, one on an error, and Ben Church and Nathan Chambers drove in runs with hits.
Clint Veal pitched well out of the bullpen for Rowan.
Chase Hathcock had three hits. Bauk, who will pitch Game 2, and Taylor Garczynski scored three runs apiece.
Johnson said his team competed well until his hurlers didn’t get some close pitches in the fourth and fifth. Then the wheels came off.
“We played in an atmosphere our guys just aren’t used to,” Johnson said. “But it’s the kind of atmosphere you want to play in. Rowan fans have fun, and baseball is supposed to be fun. I’m sure we’ll relax and play a much better game on Tuesday.”
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