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Legion tournament: Avoiding the trap

SALISBURY — Playing in a state tournament game against a foe that knows you all too well has a lot of potential for disaster. But the Rowan County Legion team not only avoided the trap Saturday night, they dominated in pounding out an 11-1, seven-inning win over Area III foe Eastern Randolph.

Now the biggest problem facing the Post 342 team going forward is that expectations might just be a little too high. In two games in the state Legion tournament at Newman Park, Rowan County (27-6) has dismantled a good Wilson Post 13 team and a red hot Eastern Randolph team by the 10-run rule with timely hits, stellar defense and shutdown pitching. That sets the bar high for future games over the next three days, but the Rowan team is in a good place.

“I don’t know if you can game plan for that (winning by 10 runs),” said outfielder Harrison Baucom. “But we sure game plan to hit the ball hard.”

The impressive outing saw eight of the nine starters in the line-up record at least one hit while five of them — Baucom, Juan Garcia, Riley Myers, Heath Mitchem and Hunter Shepherd — each powered doubles into the gaps or off the outfield wall. Combine that with the seven-inning pitching jewel turned in by lefty pitcher Bryan Ketchie and the Rowan future looks bright going forward.

Yet it could have been a different kind of night, one of those trap games, as Rowan faced an Eastern Randolph team that had won 14 of their last 16 games, battled their way into the state tournament in a playoff with Randolph County, and had just knocked off Haywood County, the top-seeded team from Area IV, the night before. They were also the last team to beat Rowan County in the regular season with a 10-9 rally back on June 27 that snapped a 14-game winning streak for Post 342. They were looking forward to the chance to play Rowan before a big crowd on a big stage in a major event.

But Rowan was not falling into the trap or even looking for revenge against Post 81. It made it clear it was just trying to advance.

“They beat us before, but we didn’t think much about that,” said slugging third baseman Juan Garcia. “We just came out here and handled business tonight. It wasn’t about revenge, it was about getting hits and scoring runs.”

Coach Jim Gantt had the best perspective on playing an opponent with payback on your mind.

“In baseball, the momentum starts and stops with the pitching,” Gantt said. “If you can’t hit their guy it doesn’t matter if you want revenge or not. …There was concern going into the game tonight just because they are a good team and they can beat you late.”

As for winning two games in the state tournament by the 10-run rule, Gantt said, “I didn’t expect that at all. I figured tonight would be a dog fight and it really was for most of the game.”

Much of the credit for the offensive explosion in the game can go to the bottom Rowan order. The seventh, eighth and ninth hitters produced six of the team’s 12 hits and drove in three runs.

“We are the bottom of the order,” said centerfielder Kacey Otto, who went 2 for 3 with an RBI. “We are supposed to move runners up, get hits when needed and just get on base and that is what we did. We didn’t come in looking for a run-rule, but we did come in here to win. We are trying to win this thing.”

The next step in the quest is at 7:30 p.m. Sunday when Rowan County plays the only other remaining 2-0 team, Hope Mills Boosters. The survivor of that game will be in the cat-bird seat as everyone else has to slug it out to stay alive and try to make it to Tuesday night.

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