American Legion: Rowan 6, Concord 3 — Rowan clinches series, hosts Mocksville tonight
CONCORD — Brandon White doesn’t show much emotion, so he didn’t react, but he did hear the roar from Rowan County American Legion fans as he walked slowly to the mound to pitch the ninth inning.
“I heard it and I appreciated it,” said White, a rising junior at North Rowan. “But all I was thinking about was throwing strikes.”
Complete games are as outdated as “Sanford & Son” and “Three’s Company,” but White executed Rowan’s first one of the summer on a hot Saturday that included some pressure. Rowan rode him for a 6-3 win on the road and finally ended an exhausting first-round series with Concord three games to one. There were two postponements, including an aborted start by White, who got loose three times during Thursday’s thunder and lightning.
Young lefties Hunter Shepherd, who pitched six great innings Friday, and White made the series less taxing than it might’ve been, and now Rowan (20-6) starts a second-round series with Mocksville tonight at Newman Park with its pitching staff in reasonably good shape.
White tossed 100 pitches on the nose, with first baseman Chance Bowden fielding a routine bouncer for the 27th out on the 100th. Bowden gestured to White, telling him he didn’t need to sprint to cover first base — that he’d done more than enough already.
“That was definitely the best Brandon has been this season,” Rowan shortstop Jeremy Simpson said. “We were hoping we could finish this in the afternoon and not have to play them again tonight, and Brandon did a great job.”
Rowan coach Jim Gantt’s concern was that White and Shepherd have similar styles and repertoire. He feared Concord might be tough on White just 14 hours after being baffled by Shepherd.
“We had similar pitchers going back-to-back, but we did have a different catcher (Dustin Ritchie, who rotates with Michael Pinkston, caught White), and they call their games differently,” Gantt said. “That probably helped us some.”
White scattered nine hits and worked around five errors. He only struck out two but he allowed just one earned run. That was Tyler Thomas’ homer leading off the bottom of the ninth.
“Watching Hunter throw to them, I could see what their weaknesses were and tried to learn from it,” White said. “The homer, that guy really jacked it, but I just went after the next guy.”
White is 3-0, but this was his first win since he pitched five innings against Randolph County on June 6.
“Brandon’s not a strikeout pitcher and he understands that and just went right at their hitters,” Gantt said. “He got a lot of first-pitch outs and a lot of routine flyballs. He had to pitch around too many errors, but was able to do it.”
White’s great control — he didn’t walk anyone — disguised a less than stellar day for Rowan at the plate as well as in the field. Rowan had to scratch for most of its runs against Concord starter Kaleb Measimer and fireballing reliever Nick Coble, who fanned seven hitters in three innings.
Concord scored first, but Rowan achieved a 1-all tie in the second when Heath Mitchem singled home Harrison Baucom. Then Rowan took a 2-1 lead when Simpson and Mitchem pulled off a double steal. Simpson drew a throw as he sprinted for second, and Mitchem dashed home from third. Mitchem injured a leg on the play and was replaced at DH by Shepherd.
With Riley Myers on base, Bowden whacked a two-run homer in the third for a 4-1 lead.
“Coach (Sandy) Moore pointed out that their pitcher was staying away from just about everybody, so I was crowding the plate,” Bowden said. “I hit a fastball that was up and in. I thought sure it would go foul, but it just hung in there down the left-field line.”
The sign says 300 feet to the line, and it’s probably even less than that. Concord coach Tommy Small shook his head over the homer. Concord could see Bowden was up on the plate and tried to jam him and Measimer actually executed on the pitch.
“That pitch was in on Bowden’s hands, but he just kind of fisted it out of here,” Small said. “Ordinarily that ball goes foul into the trees, but the wind was blowing across to right field,. That kept it fair.”
White maintained that 4-1 lead a long time.
“Brandon had everything working today and they just kept popping balls up,” said Ritchie. “And when they did hit it hard, someone ran it down in the outfield.”
Two errors helped Concord get a run back in the sixth. Concord had momentum at that point, and then it got some more when Small put Coble on the mound and he started whipping fastballs by people.
“That was the plan,” Small said. “Measimer kept us in the game, which is all we could ask for. Then we went to Coble, but then we threw the ball all over the park and gave them a run.”
That run came in the top of the seventh. Luke Setzer walked, stole second and journeyed around the bases as Concord performed a Bad News Bears impression. That was a huge run and made it 5-2.
Rowan managed to score its final run in the ninth with two walks, a hit batsman and a single by Ritchie. Shepherd walked with the bases full to plate the run. Baucom earned baseball’s version of a Purple Heart by taking a Coble fastball in the back but staying in the game.
Thomas crushed a high curveball from White over the right-field fence to begin the bottom of the ninth, but White shrugged and kept doing what he’d been doing all day.
“After he’d thrown four pitches in the ninth, they had a home run, but Brandon had also gotten two outs,” Gantt said.
Then White got the third one, and Rowan fans cheered him again.
Concord’s season ended at 9-15 . Small handled it stoically.
“We’re a fastball-hitting team and that’s why we hit it hard against (Connor) Johnson and (Chase) Jarrett — but our weakness was lefties with off-speed stuff, and that’s what we saw the last two days,” Small said. “Still, it’s not like we played bad. We had a chance to win every game.”