Strickland leads Greater Cabarrus to win over East Rowan

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 29, 2016

By David Shaw

GRANITE QUARRY — Right-hander Sawyer Strickland insisted he wasn’t at his best Monday night. Try telling that to East Rowan.

A slender senior for the Greater Cabarrus Stallions, he was more resourceful than scary in complete-game, 4-1 victory over East at Staton Field.

“I missed a few spots here and there, but that’s going to happen,” Strickland said after the Stallions (14-2) won their sixth straight match. “I had a good game. I just know I can be better.”

The person least impressed with Strickland after his 94-pitch effort seemed to be Strickland. He scattered five hits, struck out eight, walked two and improved to 5-1. Pitch by pitch he won the respect of his teammates, East’s hitters and both Greater Cabarrus coach Chris Lankford and East Rowan coach Brian Hightower.

“Sawyer competes every time he goes out,” Lankford said. “He competes every pitch. He did not have his best stuff tonight but he fought through. That’s the sign of a good pitcher, when you don’t have your best stuff and you still stop them.”

The Mustangs (8-5) spent much of the night kicking in their stalls. John Owen clubbed a pair of doubles and Ike Freeman grounded a third-inning two-bagger down the left field line, but East never did crack the code against Strickland.

“He made pitches when he had to,” said Hightower. “When he got into situations where we could have scored, he buckled down. Sometimes you’ve got to tip your hat. He threw a pretty good ballgame.”

The Stallions didn’t light up the scoreboard either, but they gave Strickland more than enough support. Greater Cabarrus scored three runs in the top of the second inning against East sophomore Hayden Setzer — one on a fielder’s choice and two more when No. 9 hitter Cameron Wallace steered a 3-2 pitch into the left-field corner for a two-out, two-run double.

“(Wallace) has been struggling for us,” Strickland said. “For him to do that in that situation was huge.”

East responded with its only run in the last of the second. Jordan Wise and Tanner File lined base hits to the right side before a one-out double steal put two runners in scoring position. Catcher Trevor Scruggs made it 3-1 when he hoisted a sacrifice fly to center field.

East squandered a chance to tighten the score in the last of the fifth. The Mustangs loaded the bases with one away and their No. 3 and No. 4 hitters due up. But Strickland escaped by fanning Chandler Blackwelder on a 1-2 curveball and coaxed Jackson Justus to roll into an inning-ending groundout on another curve.

“What did he throw, seven or eight curves for strikes the whole night?” Hightower wondered. “That’s what made it so frustrating for me.”

Stallions’ catcher Seth Cauble said Strickland’s calm demeanor on the mound was pivotal. “His innate ability to keep his composure in check makes him better,” Cauble said. “He’s got baseball knowledge. He knew what to do and what to throw in those situations.”

Greater Cabarrus scored its final run against sidearm reliever Colby Myrick in the top of the sixth. With a runner on second base and two out, lefty swinging McConner Wallace grounded an RBI-single up the middle.

East went down in order in seventh as Strickland retired eight of the last nine men he faced. The game ended when Freeman swung through a sweeping curve.

“Just a devastating pitch to end it,” Cauble said. “But for all the good things he did tonight, I’ve seen him pitch better. He will exceed expectations.”

• • •

NOTES: Strickland pitched for Rowan County’s American Legion team last summer. He appeared in the first and last regular-season game — sandwiched around a shoulder injury — and was lights out in the postseason, finishing 1-0 with two saves and 1.36 ERA in 13.2 innings.

G.C. Stallions    030 001 0 — 4  6  0

East Rowan       010 000 0 — 1  5  2

WP — Strickland (5-1). LP — Setzer (1-3)