SALISBURY — Had it been successful, Ashton Fleming’s attempt to steal home in the bottom of the 10th would’ve gone into the books as one of the most daring plays in Rowan County’s proud history.
But Fleming was out, and as he lay prone on the ground after being tagged out by catcher Jamison Nagle, Kernersville fans celebrated a tense 3-2 victory in Game 1 of a best-of-five, third-round series.
“It was a good game, a game that we hated to lose,” sighed Rowan cleanup hitter Chance Bowden, who was at the plate when Fleming, who rapped two doubles, stunned everyone at Newman Park with his unexpected dash home. “No one’s faulting Ashton. He was hustling. He was giving great effort, running as hard as he could down the line. It didn’t work out there, but we had our chances.”
It was not an ordinary game. Kernersville (27-6) little-balled the winning run in the 10th on a clean single, a bunt single by cleanup man Zach Scudder, a sacrifice bunt by Nagle, and a balk by Rowan reliever Riley Myers (0-3).
The surprise bunt single by the powerful Scudder (seven homers, 35 RBIs) keyed the inning. He was ruled safe as Bowden charged to field the ball at first base and just missed tagging him as he ran by.
Rowan coach Jim Gantt argued Scudder had left the baseline to avoid the tag, but the umpire ruled otherwise.
“Scudder is so not used to bunting,” Kernersville coach Chad Loflin said. “Now he’s like, ‘Hey, Coach I kinda like this bunting thing.’ ”
Most of the night, Rowan (22-10) was on the ropes. Rowan, which had a 13-game winning streak snapped, was out-hit 13-5, and Kernersville shortstop Shane Billings put on a clinic with diving plays, charging plays and leaping plays.
Unbeaten Rowan ace Brian Bauk allowed two runs in the first inning, but he worked out of trouble after that, including dodging a bases-loaded, no-outs mess in the eighth, when Rowan turned a DP in the middle to keep the score 2-all.
“I just wish we could’ve played Sunday,” said Bauk, referring to the washout on the series’ scheduled opening night. “They got a day of rest when they had to be tired, and we added a day of rust at the plate. I know they out-hit us, but I still think it’s a game that we shoulda won.”
Kernersville got excellent pitching from the trio of Will Greene, who lasted into the seventh, winner Eric Corlett (3-0), and closer Scudder, who was on the hill in the 10th.
“I was tickled with the pitching we got,” Loflin said. “I can’t imagine anyone that didn’t enjoy this ballgame, although I’m sure the vast percentage of them are not happy with the result.”
Both Rowan runs required good fortune. Taylor Garczynski sped home in the third inning when a swinging strike three by Harrison Baucom skipped past Nagle.
In the seventh, Hathcock walked, stole second, and then swiped third even though he had been picked off. He scored on Hunter Brooks’ single up the middle on an 0-2 pitch for a 2-2 tie.
But Rowan failed in the fifth, eighth and ninth to gets bunts down at key moments.
“Things went wrong,” Gantt said. “Miscommunications. Just not executing.”
Rowan had runners at second and third in the 10th when Fleming took off. Bowden had flirted with a three-run homer right before that when he crushed a 2-2 curveball foul down the left-field line.
The crowd roared as Bowden’s drive soared and Loflin, who had made the against-the-book decision to pitch to Bowden, had his heart fly temporarily into his throat, but the ball went foul.
“I knew I’d hooked it,” Bowden said quietly. “The pitch was in on me too much. I just couldn’t keep it fair.”
Loflin had warned his team to be alert for the unexpected in the 10th — even a surprise steal of home.
“When you play Rowan, anything is possible,” he said.
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