Prep Baseball: West advances with patience, Love

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 3, 2016

MOUNT ULLA — West Rowan’s baseball team has the lowest batting average in the county (.266) — but the most wins (20).
The secret to the Falcons’ success is an on-base percentage that’s north of .400. West’s hitters have accumulated 166 HBPs and walks. They have produced more free passes than strikeouts.
“We like to see a lot of pitches when we’re at the plate,” West catcher Trevor Atwood said. “Walks are usually as good as hits, and it’s a win no matter how you scored the runs.”
The walks and HBPs kept coming in Monday’s, 10-0, five-inning victory against Robinson in the first round of the South Piedmont Conference Tournament. The Falcons only had three hits, but their patience paid off with 14 free passes via walks and HBPs.
“Robinson put guys on the mound that had very good stuff but they were kind of all over the place tonight,” West coach Seth Graham said. “If we’d gone up there hacking, they would’ve made us look bad. We didn’t do much swinging, but patience led to a lot of baserunners.”
West pitcher Austin Love (7-1), a junior UNC commit, walked three, but he only allowed one hit. He fanned nine of the 19 batters he faced and pushed his strikeouts total to 99 for the season.
“It was kind of business as usual for Austin,” Atwood said. “His curveball was really good, and he was able to spot his fastball away. He threw good curveballs deep in counts and when he was behind in the count.”
The weather provided the most challenging opposition for the Falcons. Mount Ulla stayed dry compared to the rest of the county, but lightning in the area prevented the game from starting before 7:40 p.m.
What Graham didn’t want to see happen was for Love to take the mound, throw 50 pitches, and then have the game stopped by weather issues.
“I was just hoping we’d be able to play the game,” Love said. “I tried to make it as much like a normal start as I possibly could. I didn’t have as much time to warm up as I usually have, but after we got the game started, it was like normal.”
Love had handcuffed Robinson hitters earlier this season — West scored that game a no-hitter, while Robinson scored it a one-hitter — and he duplicated that dominance.
“Even when you’re not having a good day, you’ve got to fight and compete,” Robinson coach Damon Whalen said. “But we never made any adjustments, and you have to adjust to good pitching. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, but our hitters kept doing the same thing.”
The loss was a season-ender for the eighth-seeded Bulldogs (8-16).
Top-seeded West (20-5) had two hits in the first inning, but Lee Poteat’s leadoff single was erased by a caught stealing before Brandon Walton sent a double screaming into the right-field corner.
West Rowan’s six-run second against Robinson starter Jarrett Smith wasn’t much to look at. Atwood started the inning with a walk and Love’s HBP and Mykal Berger’s one out walk filled the bases.
After that, it was a merry-go-round. Caleb Link’s walk forced home a run. After Poteat popped up, bases-juiced walks to Walton and Kacey Otto made it 3-0. A wild pitch made it 4-0.
Reliever Justin Bundy took the mound and made a nice pitch to Atwood, the 10th Falcon to bat in the inning, but Atwood’s harmless-looking pop fly fell safely near the right-field line to plate two more runs and stake Love to a 6-0 lead.
“I didn’t think it would be a hit, but it just dropped,” Atwood said. ”
West’s four-run fifth inning ended the game via the mercy rule. After a hit batsman and two walks filled the bases, Berger walked to make it 7-0. Link’s sac fly boosted the lead to 8-0.
The final two runs scored when Brett Graham chopped a bouncer wide of first base, and Robinson missed connections on a 3-1 putout. One run would’ve scored even if the play at first had been made.
“West got eight runs on walks and two runs on that error at the end,” Whalen said. “Not a good night for us and a tough way for our seniors to go out.”
On the other hand, it was a good night for West. The Falcons move on to a semifinal that’s now set for Wednesday. They’ll take on the winner of tonight’s South Rowan-Concord game, and they’ll have Bryan Ketchie, who has fully recovered from illness, ready to pitch.
West also owns back-to-back, 20-win seasons for the first time since 2003-04.
“Austin was good again, and we scored 10 runs, so we did some things right,” Coach Graham said. “Mostly, I’m just glad we got the game in. There was weather all around us.”

Robinson 000 00 — 0 1 2
W. Rowan 060 04 — 10 3 0
W — Austin Love (7-1). L — Jarrett Smith (2-5).
Leading hitters: WR: Caleb Link 2 RBIs, Trevor Atwood 2 RBIs, Brett Graham 2 RBIs.