Owen shines as East shuts out South
By David Shaw
GRANITE QUARRY — It may be time for East Rowan’s John Owen to shoulder his way into the VIP room.
The junior right-hander was certainly deserving Tuesday night at Staton Field, where he needed only 86 pitches to hurl the Mustangs past South Rowan, 8-0.
“He’s been economic all year,” coach Brian Hightower said after East (10-5, 6-3 SPC) reached the conference season’s midpoint in third place. “This is what he does. He goes out there and gives you a quality start every time.”
Owen, who also catches for East, was the architect of a well-crafted four-hitter. He pitched his third shutout, lowered his ERA to 0.72 and became the county’s second six-game winner.
“That mound is my home,” he said with a post-game smile. “Behind the plate is my second home.”
It was all home-sweet-home for the Mustangs, who rapped out 10 hits — four for extra bases — against South starter Blake Johnson. Fresh off an exciting spring break championship at Intimidators Stadium, the Raiders fell flat against Owen’s fastball/curveball assortment.
“It’s an opportunity to get better,” coach Thad Chrismon said after South (9-5, 5-4) had its five-game winning streak snapped. “We need to learn how to handle a pitcher that commands two types of breaking balls. He threw one for a strike, another one out of the zone. We’ve got to get better at handling that.”
East gave Owen all the support he would need in the bottom of the first inning. Johnson, a senior lefty, walked leadoff batter Jordan Wise on four pitches and Ike Freeman on five. Owen grounded a single into right field and with the sacks full, slugger Jackson Justus brought in all the groceries — delivering a three-run double to right-center.
“I was just being selective. Being patient, waiting for my pitch,” said Justus, a .179 hitter in East’s first 14 games. “Our mentality for this game was middle-opposite. Stay inside the baseball and don’t try to pull everything.”
Justus smoked an 0-1 pitch that was high and outside. “Johnson was struggling to find the strike zone so (Justus) got a pitch that was up that he could handle,” Hightower said. “He hit it to right-center, which is what we’ve been preaching the last couple days at practice.”
Justus helped East nourish its lead in the last of the third. This time he crunched a leadoff double that bounced up the incline in left field. He took third on a wild pitch and scored when Will Brown reach on an error, the second of three committed by the Raiders. Johnson yielded another unearned run two batters later when Tanner File sliced an RBI-triple into the right-field corner.
“It was good for us to produce some runs on hits,” Justus said. “Instead of scoring on groundouts and errors. We had to earn our runs.”
East added three runs in the fourth inning — two on Nathan Hill’s one-out single and another when Owen paddled a run-scoring hit into left. South threatened to score in the top of the sixth when Tyler Rary drew a two-out walk, Johnson singled and Austin Corriher was hit by a pitch. Owen — who struck out six, walked two and threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of 26 batters — escaped when Walker Joyce flew out to right.
“Sometimes, in a situation like that, you’ve got to take your time, step off the mound and take a breather,” Owen said.
East catcher Trevor Scruggs had a front-row seat to Owen’s eye-opening performance.
“There’s no doubt he’s our ace,” Scruggs said. “He’s a great locator. Tonight he had that curve that comes right at the batter and breaks over the plate. But his best pitch, his main pitch, was the outside fastball. He kept beating them outside. They were always late.”
NOTES: Johnson went 2-for-3 with a double for South. On the mound he allowed four earned runs and walked five in four innings. Southpaw Dillon Norton pitched two innings of perfect relief. … East’s infield turned two double plays and South had one. … Scruggs caught Rary trying to steal a base in the first inning and picked off a courtesy runner an inning later.
South Rowan 000 000 0 — 0 4 3
East Rowan 302 300 x — 8 10 2
WP — Owen (6-1). LP — Johnson (3-3).
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