East Rowan takes first-round playoff win over South
By Marny Hendrick
GRANITE QUARRY — East Rowan entered the state 3A baseball playoffs reeling a bit from two consecutive tough losses, but quickly righted the ship Wednesday night in a first-round victory.
The Mustangs pounded out 12 hits and used another solid pitching effort from junior John Owen to knock off county and conference rival South Rowan, 6-3, at Staton Field. East (18-8) now advances to a second round match-up at Ledford this weekend.
Ike Freeman, Jordan Wise, and Hayden Setzer led the assault with three hits each as East overcame an early 2-0 deficit against the Raiders (16-9). At the same time, Owen shook off a rocky start to shut down South from the third inning on with a five-hit, seven-strikeout performance.
“I came out the first two innings a little over-hyped, which causes you to over throw and that is exactly what I was doing,” Owen said, in improving his season record to 10-2. “After that, I just settled in and started hitting my spots better.”
South Rowan took full advantage Owen’s problems early with four hits in the first two innings capped by a towering two-run homer from sophomore Tyler Shepherd in the top of the second. But the Mustangs responded with four singles off South starter Walker Joyce in the bottom of the inning to pull ahead, 3-2.
East then took full control in the bottom of the third when Setzer doubled, Tanner File singled and No. 9 hitter Chandler Antosek delivered a clutch two-out double into the left field corner to drive in a pair and make the score 5-2.
The Mustangs put the cherry on top in the bottom of the fourth when UNC-Chapel Hill signee Freeman hit a solo bomb well over the left field fence, making it 6-2. It capped a stellar night for Freeman, who doubled and singled to go with his homer in a 3-for-3 night with two RBI.
“He (Joyce) was challenging me inside all night and had me off-balance with his slider,” Freeman said. “He threw me a fastball in and I was able to get it up and out of here.”
Freeman came up in the sixth inning, needing a triple for the cycle but was plunked by a Joyce pitch instead. “I was thinking about it (the cycle) … I am not going to lie” Freeman said. “But I was just happy with our hitting overall, especially at the bottom of our order.”
While East was breaking out the bats, the right-handed Owen was mixing his fastball and curve to hold the Raiders hitless in the third through sixth innings. South did get to Owen with two outs in the top of the seventh with a single by catcher Shaggy Wyatt, who came around to score on a throwing error. But Owen settled in to get Dawson Larrimore to fly out to center to end the game.
“I loved the way we played tonight,” East coach Brian Hightower said afterwards. “ We had 12 hits and hit the ball hard and were aggressive. “ He noted that his Mustangs lost a 4-3 decision to South and Joyce on the final game of the regular season. “But we hit the ball so much better off him this time.”
The first round matchup in the 3A West bracket matched a couple of county and South Piedmont conference rivals who had split in their two previous meetings this season. It was a scenario that Hightower did not like. “I think they (South) have a great ball team but it is just dumb that you have to play a conference opponent in the first round. It just makes no sense and it is something the state association could easily fix.”
South Rowan coach Thad Chrismon was a little more philosophical about playing a familiar foe in the first round. “You have to play somebody,” he said. “And the bottom line is you are going to play really good teams no matter who you play. It just boiled down to who played better today and you have to credit East for playing better and winning the game.”
After the game Chrismon spent some extra time down in the right field corner with his senior players. “I just told them how much they meant to us, personally, and to our program. I thanked them for all the things they had done.”
Wyatt, one of those Raider seniors, was sorry to see his prep career end. “Being here at South has been the most amazing thing that has happened to me.” He said. “Playing baseball with this wonderful group of players has been so great. I couldn’t ask for a better team.”
Meanwhile, the Mustangs will travel to Wallburg this Friday or Saturday for round two in the West 3A bracket against a 21-5 Ledford Panthers team that is seeded fourth overall. Ledford won its opening game in impressive fashion Tuesday night as Jonathan Turner hurled a no-hitter to eliminate North Buncombe, 3-0.
South Rowan 020 000 1 — 3 5 1
East Rowan 032 100 x — 6 12 1
W — John Owen (10-2. L — Walker Joyce (4-4)
Leading Hitters — S. Rowan: Tyler Shepherd 1-for-2, HR, 2 RBI. E. Rowan: Ike Freeman 3-for-3, 2B, HR, 2 RBI; Hayden Setzer 3-for-4, Jordan Wise 3-for-4, 2B; Chandler Antosek, 2-for-3, 2B, 2 RBI.