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Southern Rowan bats quiet

MOORESVILLE — Southern Rowan didn’t show us its Sunday best in last night’s Round 2 opener.

Four days after completing an unexpected sweep of favored Stanly County, SR looked flat and listless in a 9-4 loss to Mooresville Post 66.

“You can look at it any way you want to,” coach Ben Hampton said at Lake Norman High School, where Southern (10-12) managed only three singles and went down quietly. “They hit the ball hard and we didn’t. That’s the difference.”

Game 2 of the best-of-5 series is scheduled tonight in Landis. Southern, which played some of its best baseball in the first round, was handcuffed by Mooresville lefty Nick Freeland and a couple of relievers.

“This wasn’t our best,” first baseman Chase Labbe said. “When we come together and play as one, we’re a pretty good team. But we weren’t tonight.”

They were for the first two-and-a-half innings. SR scored two runs in the top of the first and two more in the third, jumping to a 4-0 lead. John Daugherty’s infield hit in the first produced Southern’s first run — and only RBI. Its next three runs were unearned, thanks to three errors by Mooresville infielders.

“We didn’t take care of the ball early,” winning coach Seth Graham said after Post 66 improved to 17-5. “I don’t know what was wrong. But the guys settled in.”

So did Freeland, the South Iredell product who bulldozed his way through six innings. He allowed one earned run, walked four batters, hit two others and committed a costly error — yet improved to 4-1.

“We were just out in front of him a lot,” said SR’s Ben Gragg. “It seemed like we never got settled at the plate.”

Post 66 finally did against SR starter Matt Saul in the bottom of the third. An error, base hit and a walk loaded the bases with none out. Then Seth Hubbard was hit by a pitch, Brett Pope grounded out and Seth Hartings hoisted a sac fly to bring the hosts within 4-3.

“We had it early,” said Labbe. “As soon as they got those three it felt like we fell asleep and just lost.”

Mooresville tied the score an inning later Jared Stukbauer crunched a two-out double off the right-field fence, advanced to third Jamie Anderson’s single to center and crossed when catcher Chris Aldelfio steered a groundball single into left field.

“We were still in it, still tied 4-4,” said Gragg, who collected Southern’s final hit leading off the top of the fifth.

SR’s optimism was shattered after Saul retired Mooresville’s first two batters in the last of the fifth. A four-run outburst began when Michael Elwell lined a two-out single that caromed off the glove of second-baseman Chandler Corriher before settling in shallow right field.

Holden Pender followed with a hit-and-run single to right before Zack Little’s well-placed bunt down the third-base line gave Post 66 its first lead. Stukbauer then delivered the knockout punch when he clubbed a two-out, three-run homer that cleared the fence in left-center.

“With two out, that really put a damper on it,” Gragg said. “You’ve got to be able to fight back in the playoffs, but we couldn’t.”

The home run was Stukbauer’s eighth of the American Legion season. As a starting pitcher at Lake Norman, the rising junior batted only twice during the high school season.

“I know there are a few select pitches that I can hit very well,” he said. “It was a fastball, a little bit inside, just above the knees. When I hit it I saw the backspin off the bat and thought it would carry out.”

It did, and with it went the warm feelings Southern brought into the game. “The long ball always shifts momentum.” said Graham. “And Jared doesn’t miss when he’s in that situation.”

•••

NOTES: Blake Johnson will start on the mound for SR tonight against Anderson, a Catawba signee. … Mooresville’s pitchers recorded 10 strikeouts.

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