Junior American Legion: West Rowan returning to state tournament
By Mike London
LEXINGTON — The bad news is West Rowan’s Junior American Legion team lost, 10-0, to the Davidson County Braves at Holt-Moffitt Field on Monday in the Area III championship series.
The good news is West Rowan (20-10) already has qualified for a trip to the state tournament, a journey that will be the program’s second in its brief, three-year history.
“We walked nine tonight (in five innings) and seven scored,” West Rowan coach Jesse Link said. “But that’s not how we’ve played all year. We’ve had good pitching and defense. The boys have played a lot of good baseball.”
West Rowan debuted as a program in the summer of 2013, qualified for the state event as Area III runner-up and placed third statewide. Four of the players from that original West Rowan Junior Legion team have moved on to become key players for the current Rowan County American Legion — Hunter Shepherd, Kacey Otto, Lee Poteat and Bryan Ketchie.
Two of the kids on the 2013 West Rowan Junior Legion team are now the veteran anchors of Link’s current squad — second baseman/pitcher Brandon Walton and shortstop Brett Graham.
This year’s state tournament will be held at M.S. Deal Stadium in Granite Falls. West Rowan still hopes to go as a No. 1 seed and as Area III champion.
West Rowan won, 9-4 — scoring nine runs with only four hits — to beat Davidson County in Game 1 on Sunday in Mount Ulla. The teams will play the decisive game of a best-of-three series at 7:00 in Mount Ulla tonight.
Link said Zeb Burns, a rising eighth-grader and the youngest player in program history, will start on the mound for West Rowan on Tuesday.
West Rowan stranded two runners in the first inning to get Monday’s game off to a bad start and left the bases loaded in the fourth, despite singles by Walton, Luke Waggoner and Olen Stamper. A fine diving catch by Davidson center fielder Austin Ferguson kept West Rowan from scoring in the fifth inning.
Tanner Craft had three hits and three RBIs for Davidson and scored the run that made it a 10-0 walkoff in the bottom of the fifth.
West Rowan center fielder Travis Cone made two good plays, but pitchers Daniel Durham, Jacob Perez and Cameron Graham had limited success stopping the Braves.
“Davidson is a good team, an older team than we are, and they were aggressive,” Link said.
West Rowan’s 17-man roster is young, even by Junior Legion standards. Link has one homeschooler (Cone), eight West Rowan High jayvees and nine boys who played middle school baseball.
“It’s a good mix,” Link said. “I won’t say we’ve overachieved, but I will say the coaching staff is very happy with how well this group has done.”
Durham, Walton and Stamper have been key starting pitchers, with Cole Hales in the role of closer. The catchers are Cameron Graham and Mykal Berger.
“Catcher was the position where we didn’t have experience,” Link said. “Those two were willing to try it and they’ve played great.”
Carson, which finished with 21 victories, was the top team in West Rowan’s conference during the regular season. A No. 2 seed, West Rowan swept playoff series from Kernersville and Carson to get to the Area III championship series against Davidson County.
West Rowan’s assistant coaches are Scott Graham, Jeff Link and Zack Simpson.
“We’ve been together a few years now,” Jesse Link said. “We think alike.”
NOTES: West Rowan will play in the first round of the double-elimination state tournament in Granite Falls on Friday. The team will play a morning game if it’s the Area III runner-up and an evening game if it’s the Area III champion. … West Rowan’s roster includes Brett Graham, Brandon Walton, Cole Myers, Olen Stamper, Cameron Graham, Payne Stohlsworth, Travis Cone, Luke Waggoner, Daniel Durham, Zeb Burns, Mykal Berger, Cade Bernhardt, Timmy Wilmot, Carsen Bailey, Jacob Perez, Cole Hales and Dillon Simpson.