Prep Baseball: Love conquers all

Published 1:58 am Saturday, May 16, 2015

MOUNT ULLA — West Rowan sophomore pitcher Austin Love faced a make-or-break situation in the top of the sixth.

Love was trying to hold a one-run lead, and Patton had two on with none out.

And then Love fell behind in the count 2-0. That’s when senior first baseman Juan Garcia made a visit to the mound.

“Sometimes your heart gets to beating faster than you can think,” West Rowan coach Seth Graham said. “Juan helped Austin get refocused. Austin’s been in tough situations before. We knew he could do it. He just had to settle down a little bit.”

Love was the difference-maker in West Rowan’s exciting 4-3 win against the visitors from Morganton in a second-round 3A playoff game. A tall, hard-throwing right-hander, Love relieved lefty Bryan Ketchie in the third inning. Love struck out nine of the 18 hitters he faced.

“Austin was a tough matchup for a lot of their hitters because I’m sure they’d spent two days preparing for a lefty,” Graham said.

Fourth-seeded West Rowan (19-6) played the early innings in a daze, mesmerized by Patton southpaw Andrew Davis’ assortment of off-speed pitches. The Falcons ran themselves out of a first inning in which they failed to score despite two walks, a single and a hit batsman. They also rapped into two double plays.

Ketchie balked home Patton’s first run in the second inning. Love relieved Ketchie in a two-on, one-out situation, and after the Falcons missed a chance to get an out in a rundown, Ben Buff bounced a two-run single up the middle to give Patton a 3-0 lead.

“We made mistakes and we got behind,” Graham said. “We knew what we needed to do at the plate, but it took us longer to make the adjustments than I wanted it to.”

When West Rowan catcher Trevor Atwood threw out a would-be basestealer to end the top of the fourth, the Falcons perked up.

In the fifth, three Falcons reached on groundballs that weren’t easy plays, but all three could’ve been made. When Jeremy Simpson’s hot grounder to second was mishandled, the Falcons trailed 3-1.

“They made errors that helped us,” Graham said. “But when you hustle out of the box and you have speed, you rush fielders into making errors.”

The Falcons were coming through the lineup for the third time in the fifth, and had made the necessary adjustments. Juan Garcia stayed back and roped a single to right to make it a 3-2 game. Then cleanup man Kacey Otto, stepped in.

“It took us a while to figure their pitcher out,” Otto said. “But when we had to get it done, we did what we needed to do. We put it together in that one inning.”

Otto smashed a two-run double to right-center, chasing home Simpson and Garcia, and the Falcons suddenly led 4-3.

It was up to Love (6-2), who faced the minimum six batters in the fourth and fifth, after that.

The sixth is when he stepped forward to strike out the side after Garcia’s pep talk. Then he ended the game by striking out Patton’s No. 2 and No. 3 hitters with the tying run at second base,

Love was throwing gas, and he froze several hitters with a nasty curveball for called punchouts.

“I was nervous at first, but then I started getting ahead of the hitters with my fastball and I had really good control of  my curveball,” Love said. “It did help when Juan came over.  He’s a senior and he helped me calm down.”

Patton finished 12-12. West Rowan will be home again on Tuesday, with Omar Bautista (8-1) the probable pitcher.


(20) Patton            012     000   0     — 3    7    3

(4) West Rowan   000    040    x     — 4   4     1

W — Love (6-2). L — Davis.