Junior Legion Baseball: Rowan County advances to Area III semifinals

Published 10:56 pm Saturday, July 2, 2016

By Mike London


SALISBURY — Rowan County’s Junior American Legion baseball team ended a first-round playoff series in style, with catcher Blake White coming up the third-base line aggressively to glove a strong throw home from right fielder Wayne Mize.
White made the game-ending tag that gave Rowan County, a No. 2 seed, an exciting double play, a 5-1 victory and a sweep of a best-of-three series with Walkertown.
“That was a great way to end it,” White said. “But that was a tough game.”
Walkertown right-hander Josh Robledo filled up the strike zone and made it tough for Rowan for a long time.
“He had a good curveball and he had a fastball that he was throwing by a lot of our guys,” Rowan coach Brian Hightower said.
Rowan right-hander McGwire Smith — named for former MLB slugger Mark McGwire — battled Robledo through three scoreless innings at Newman Park.
“My off-speed stuff was working,” said Smith, who relied on his changeup and curveball. “And our defense was strong.”
Walkertown broke through in the fourth against Smith when Austin Asbury whipped a two-out, run-scoring double past diving third baseman Griffin Myers that rattled around in the left-field corner.
Still down 1-0 heading to the bottom of the sixth, Rowan finally got the bats going against Robledo, who entered that inning with a two-hit shutout. Chandler Lippard, Rowan’s No. 3 hitter, lashed a clutch double down the left-field line to start the inning.
Walkertown was looking for a bunt from the next hitter, Bryson Wagner, but Wagner got a fastball he liked and lined it to left-center to score Lippard with the tying run. That hit took some pressure off his teammates.
“As good as their starting pitcher was, we hung in there, and I think he’d lost a little bit of velocity by the sixth,” Hightower said. “Then we started hitting some line drives.”
Wagner was cut down stealing second, but walks to Jake Davis and Myers re-started Rowan’s offense and got Robledo out of the game.
With White, a lefty hitter, coming to the plate, Walkertown sent in southpaw Drey Pettycord to pitch, but White won the game’s biggest individual battle, stroking the single to left-center that scored a streaking Davis and put Rowan on top, 2-1.
“Great at-bat, backside hit, exactly what we work on all the time in practice,” Hightower said.
After an intentional walk to Mize loaded the bases, Smith, the No 9 hitter, helped himself immensely with a two-run single. He got a 3-1 fastball to stroke and mashed it hard to left-center for a 4-1 cushion.
“Their starting pitcher was good and it took us a while,” Smith said. “But I always have faith in our offense.”
Leadoff man Jax Fitz then bounced a single over the second-base bag to drive in the run that made it 5-1.
Deacon Wike relieved Smith for the seventh, and it got interesting when Walkertown opened the inning with back-to-back hits. But Wike hit the outside corner and got a big called strike three on leadoff man John Ward for the first out. Then Robledo lifted a flyball to right field. It looked like a routine sac fly when it left the bat, but Mize and White turned it into a game-ending DP.
NOTES: Rowan (15-6) rallied to win, 9-3, at Walkertown, a No. 1 seed, in the series opener on Friday. Walkertown finished 17-7. …Rowan will open the Area III semifinals series on July 4. Rowan will be playing either Carson or Davidson County. Those teams are tied 1-1 and play a decisive Game 3 tonight at Carson at 7 p.m. … The other teams still alive in Area III are Concord and Randolph County.

Walkertown 000 100 0 — 1 7 0
Rowan C. 000 005 x — 5 7 1
W — McGwire Smith. L — Josh Robledo.
Leading hitters — Walkertown: Austin Asbury 2-for-3. Rowan County: Chandler Lippard 2-for-3. Smith 1-for-3, 2 RBIs.