West Rowan’s season ends with home loss to Concord
By David Shaw
MOUNT ULLA — Just like that, the music has stopped for West Rowan’s baseball team.
After racing through the regular season and South Piedmont Conference Tournament, the third-seeded Falcons were handed their walking papers Tuesday night. A season-ending, 3-2 state playoff loss to visiting Concord was cemented when senior Caleb Link was thrown out at the plate attempting to score the tying run in the final inning.
“It’s not the way we drew it up,” coach Seth Graham said after West closed up shop with a 22-6 record. “This is very hard. I’m at a loss for words. After all we did, it’s almost like we underachieved now.”
The outcome was both surprising and shocking. West had won three straight games and five of its last six — including an 11-1 decision from Concord in the conference semifinal game last Thursday.
“Yeah, but I told these guys the last time that we’re not done,” winning coach Shane Brown said after No. 30 Concord (13-13), which lost its first three matches with West, advanced to the second round. “I’ve had full faith in them all season.”
Graham was concerned about playing Concord again, and he said so publicly. “In football, basketball, maybe soccer you want that matchup,” he said. “But in baseball there are too many variables. You play a team often enough and they’re going to beat you. That’s baseball. Nobody wins every game.”
West trailed throughout and went down 3-0 when Sam Rogers lined a run-scoring triple down the right-field line in the top of the fifth inning. It was an 0-1 pitch right-hander Austin Love wished he could have back.
“I was just trying to throw a fastball away,” the junior said. “He did a good job hitting it where it was thrown.”
West, meanwhile, was held hitless by Concord ace Will Horsley until the last of the fifth, when infielder Brett Graham steered a ground-ball single into right field that plated Link — who had drawn one of seven walks issued by Horsley.
“It was a tight (strike) zone,” Brown said. “But I thought Will pitched a phenomenal game. He managed the game very well. He wasn’t his best, but he was on.”
He still had a one-hitter entering the bottom of the seventh. West pumped up the volume when pinch-hitter Olen Stamper coaxed a leadoff walk and was replaced by pinch-runner Josh Lindsey. Link, the Falcons’ No. 9 hitter, laid down a sacrifice bunt that was misplayed at first base, putting two runners aboard with none out.
“I thought we were going to do it,” centerfielder Kacey Otto said. “We’ve done it before. It just didn’t turn our way this game.”
It nearly did. Lee Poteat delivered West’s second run with a sac bunt to the right side. After a pop out, it came down to Otto at the plate and Link leading off of second base.
“We just had to stay in it,” Link said. “It’s high school — and most teams make mistakes.”
Instead, it was Link who made the season’s final out. The game-ending play unfolded when Otto legged out an infield hit to the left side. Link initially stopped at third, then broke for home and slipped about 15 feet off the base. He got up and quickly resumed his charge for the plate.
“I wanted him to hold the bag,” said Coach Graham, stationed in the third-base coach’s box. “But he tried to make an aggressive play. We’ve been doing things like that all year and been successful.”
Not this time. Concord shortstop Dubby West received a relay at third base and fired to catcher Matt Panner, who tagged Link out in a close and controversial play. “I thought I beat the ball there,” Link said.
He may have, but that’s for history to sort out. Disappointing as it was, West’s season ended with a simple explanation.
“It’s baseball,” Otto said, still shaking his head. “And anything can happen in baseball.”
Concord 100 110 0 — 3 6 3
West Rowan 000 010 1 — 2 2 2
WP — Will Horsley (7-1). LP — Austin Love (8-2).