Atwell allows only four hits as Legion team advances
ALBEMARLE — All of the stars aligned for the Southern Rowan Legion team Wednesday night in Albemarle and now they are moving on to the second round of the Area III playoffs.
Back by a perfect defense, veteran righthander Dillon Atwell pitched a complete game four-hitter to stifle Stanly County Post 76, 3-1, completing an unexpected but satisfying three game sweep of the first round series.
Atwell (2-0) prevailed in a tight pitcher’s duel against Stanly ace Russ Weiker, getting the runs he needed in the early innings then making the slim lead stand up down the stretch. As expected, he gave most of the credit to his defense, which played error free one night after making 10 miscues in a wild 12-11 win. They also turned a couple of critical double plays thanks to shortstop Owen White that snuffed out potential Stanly rallies in the fifth and the sixth.
“The defense was definitely the difference tonight,” Atwell said, “They made some solid plays and (Eric) Stowe did a great job behind the plate.”
Stowe was forced into the catching role as regular Matt Honeycutt sat out after re-injuring his thumb in the game Tuesday night. Stowe responded with an airtight effort that kept the game moving along.
“This series as a big hurdle for us,” Southern coach Ben Hampton said. “We have had a dry spell against Stanly for a while but now we can take some time off then come back and get ready for the next series starting Sunday.”
Southern and Stanly had battled down to the final day of the regular season to determine the second and third seed in the Southeast division. Stanly prevailed in 13 innings to take second place but Southern made sure that was it.
Southern (10-11) scratched out a couple of runs off Weiker early in the game to claim a lead never to be relinquished. Chandler Corriher led off the game with a four pitch walk, stole second and scored on a clutch two-out single by Chase Labbe. An unearned run came in the third on an error, wild pitch and a sacrifice fly to right by Labbe to make it 2-0.
Southern let two major scoring threats slip away in the fifth and sixth when they loaded the bases with no outs. In the fifth, a screaming liner from Labbe was snagged at third by Matt Lambert who tagged Corriher for the double play. In the sixth, a John Daugherty double, a hit batter and a walk loaded the bags again. But a botched squeeze play plus two Weiker strikeouts ended that threat.
Weiker left after eight innings and eight strikeouts, trailing 2-0. Southern greeted reliever David Singletary with a two-out triple by Ben Gragg followed by a double from Dylan Carpenter to notch a critical insurance run.
“It was good to get an extra run for Dillon because he pitched a great game,” Gragg noted.
Hampton handed the ball to Atwell for the ninth with a 3-0 lead and no intention of going to his bullpen.
“Dillon is one of those pitchers who is going to go out there and battle as hard as he can and give you everything he’s got,” Hampton said. “We made up our mind we were going to let him close this thing out. He worked hard enough for eight innings, we were going to give him the ninth.”
Stanly (10-16) got to Atwell for the lone run in the ninth on a single by Bryan Blanton. But Atwell induced a pop fly out from Weiker to end the game and the series. Atwell ended with 109 pitches, two strikeouts and two walks. It was also the first playoff series sweep for Southern since 2009 when Wilkesboro went down.
Southern will open the second round best-of-five series Sunday night against one of the two advancing teams from the Southwest Division, likely Mooresville Post 66 or Mocksville.
The opposition will depend on the outcome of the Rowan and Concord series still in progress.