Legion Baseball: Southern Rowan won’t have team this year
By Mike London
LANDIS — It was an underdog program from its opening night in 1996 until its final outing in 2015, but South Rowan/Southern Rowan American Legion teams provided a lot of excitement and sold a lot of hot dogs for two decades.
The official announcement that Southern Rowan won’t be in the baseball business this summer came via Twitter on Tuesday.
The reason cited wasn’t complicated. Just not enough interested players.
There were two call-outs earlier this month, but neither generated sufficient numbers to continue.
The program debuted in 1996 with Ernie Faw as head coach. South Rowan was a large high school then, competing in the 4A ranks, and the initial mission was a noble one.
Forming a Legion program of its own would allow all the South Rowan High players to compete together in the summer, rather than scattering piecemeal to add bodies and arms to the Kannapolis, Mooresville and Rowan County programs.
The belief was that South, which had gone 23-4 in the 1996 high school season, could compete in Legion. As it turned out, pitchers from one varsity team and one jayvee team weren’t enough to handle the grind of five or six games a week. That team went 5-19 and lessons were learned.
The second season was 7-16, with one notable victory — the first over Rowan County, and it came in a playoff game, no less.
Faw’s two seasons were followed by two summers (1998-99) with South Rowan High coach Dwayne Fink at the helm.
East Rowan assistant coach Allen Wilson took over in 2000, and by then, South Legion had a number of players from East and West Rowan boosting the lineup and staff. South won 17 games in 2001, beat Mooresville to take a playoff series for the first time and reached the Area III semifinals, before falling to Asheboro.
In 2003, left-hander Andrew Morgan went 7-0, and South posted a winning record (19-15) for the first time. South reached the Area III semifinals that summer before losing an exciting, six-game series to a powerhouse Kannapolis team.
Carson opened in 2006, giving South Legion another high school from which to draw numerous players.
David Wright took the reins in the summer of 2006. His 2007 team, propelled by the bat of Daniel Wagner and the arm of Rudy Brown, two future pro players, was one of South’s best. That team went 26-14 and lost 5-4 to Randolph County in Game 7 of the Area III semifinals. Randolph scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth. South was one out away from qualifying for the state tournament.
The program never really got over that heartbreak, but South was good again in 2008 (22-17).
Michael Lowman took over as coach in 2009, and South won its first regular season championship in 2010 and posted a 26-8 record. That team had a tremendous offense triggered by future Catawba stars Blake Houston and Julio Zubillaga. Maverick Miles slugged 10 homers, while Dylan Walker went 7-1 on the mound.
The 2010 team made the program’s fourth trip to the Area III semifinals but lost, three games to one, to a strong Kernersville squad that went on to win state and regional championships.
Ben Hampton became the program’s sixth coach in 2013, and a team with a heavy Carson flavor made the politically correct transition from South Rowan Legion to Southern Rowan Legion.
Hampton guided the team to a 13-11 record his first year, and Southern won a playoff series in 2014. Southern was 11-13 last summer and bowed out of the playoffs after losing a two-game, first-round series with Mocksville.
The program’s overall record stands at 262-303 with a 59-65 record in playoff games. The program knocked on the door of the state tournament four times, but never quite kicked it down.
Players in the southern Rowan area are now in the same boat they were before 1996. If they want to play Legion ball this summer it will be for the program with the closest base school to their residence. Some could surface at Mooresville or Kannapolis, while others may play for Rowan County.
Rowan County coach Jim Gantt said former Southern Rowan players will be welcomed when his first practice is held at Newman Park on May 16 at 6 p.m.
South career records: Batting average: Zach Glass, Salisbury High .431 …Runs: Maverick Miles, South Rowan High 123 … Hits: Miles, 199 … Doubles: Miles 29 … Triples: Miles 11 … Home runs: Miles 21 … RBIs: Miles 146 … Stolen bases: Daniel Wagner, South Rowan High 49 …Wins: Andrew Morgan, South Rowan High 20, Saves: Walker Snow, Carson High 11 … Strikeouts: Morgan 258 … ERA: Weston Church, West Rowan High 1.56 … Innings pitched: Morgan 225.1