Falcons in first place after topping South
By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA — West Rowan went from losing to winning in the blink of an eye, and Monday’s 4-3, eight-inning victory over South Rowan vaulted the Falcons into first place in the South Piedmont Conference standings.
“The ball’s in our court now,” West Rowan’s first-year coach Seth Graham said. “But we were fortunate. It was going to come down to who got the big break — and it was us.”
West Rowan (11-5, 7-3) fell behind, 3-2, when South Rowan (11-5, 7-4) scored a go-ahead run in the top of the eighth inning on, of all things, a based-loaded balk by West Rowan right-hander Omar Bautista.
But Bautista didn’t rattle. He got the third out and kept the Falcons’ deficit at 3-2. Then the Falcons, quiet since Juan Garcia belted a two-run homer in the first inning, played with a purpose in the bottom of the eighth and pulled it out.
“I held my breath those last few innings,” Bautista said. “It was a very intense game. South Rowan is a tough team and they fought on every at-bat. We had to show we were going to fight too.”
The bottom of the eighth inning started with a single by Lee Poteat, down the left-field line. Graham sent Caleb Link to the plate to bunt the tying run into scoring position, but the Falcons got more than they had hoped for. Link’s bunt was a little hard, to the right of the mound, and relief pitcher Walker Joyce came up throwing to second base. The ball had to be wet after rain fell in the late innings, and Joyce’s throw sailed into center field. The Falcons sped around the bases. When the play was over, the tying run had scored, and Link was at third with the winning run.
“We’d held the runner at first close and the bunt was hard, so I thought we made the right play going to second,” South Rowan Coach Thad Chrismon said. “We just didn’t execute.”
West still had to battle to get Link home, but Austin Love came back from an 0-2 count to 3-2, and then hammered a hard ground ball through the right side for the walk-off single.
“I knew I couldn’t strike out and I had to put the ball in play,” Love said. “He threw a curveball. I was able to hit it hard and get the run in.”
South starting pitcher Bo Corriher was on the ropes in the first inning. After Garcia’s homer, the Falcons put runners at first and third, but Corriher worked out of it. Corriher also dodged a bases-loaded mess in the fourth inning before Dillon Norton relieved him in the fifth.
“We got back to playing some passionate defense and really battling at the plate tonight,” Chrismon said. “We could’ve been knocked out of it early, but we hung in the game and fought for runs. We put it all out there.”
Bo Corriher’s sacrifice fly in the third cut the Raiders’ deficit to 2-1. A bank of lights went out in the fifth inning, following a double by Ryan Ashworth. That created a significant delay, so Bautista had to warm up again.
South Rowan tied it, 2-2, after play resumed when Eric Stowe hit into a fielder’s choice with runners on the corners.
Then it stayed 2-2, with Bautista working out of another jam in the seventh inning to get the game to extra innings. It appeared that a bases-loaded balk in the eighth would beat Bautista, but it didn’t.
“This game goes to Omar,” Link said. “He was determined to stay in there until we found a way to win it, and he got the job done.”
All the Falcons did their jobs, and now West Rowan is on top in a league where it’s hard to put together a winning streak. West Rowan figures to face Carson’s freshman pitching sensation, Owen White, on Wednesday.
“It’s good to be in first place,” Bautista said. “We’ve been climbing the ladder in the league for a while.”
Poteat had two hits for the Falcons. Rary and Chandler Corriher had two each for the Raiders, who play Cox Mill at home on Wednesday.
South Rowan 001 010 01 — 3 10 5
West Rowan 200 000 02 — 4 8 1
W — Bautista (5-1). L — Joyce (2-1).
HR — Garcia (2).