Rowan dominates High Point in championship opener

Published 1:00 am Sunday, July 17, 2016

By David Shaw

THOMASVILLE – The only problem pitcher John Owen and his Rowan County teammates had Saturday night was too much of a good thing.

Owen was master of his domain as Post 342 played a near-perfect game and launched the first volley in its Area III championship series with High Point.

“This was absolutely a big deal,” Owen said at historic Finch Field, where Rowan prevailed 10-0 in eight innings in the best-of-three series opener. “It’s Game 1 of the Area championship. To come up here and be as dominant as we were is just wonderful.”

Owen — a rising senior at East Rowan — tossed a suitable-for-framing, complete-game two-hitter as Rowan (28-9) moved within a victory of its second straight area crown. He faced only 27 batters, induced 12 groundouts and retired High Point’s leadoff batter in every inning.

“He’s fantastic,” said Rowan catcher Trevor Atwood. “He got on the corners with his fastballs and left all of his off-speed pitches low in the zone. That made him very hard to hit.”

Coach Jim Gantt had to agree. “The story of the night was John Owen,” he said after Rowan won for the 18th time in its last 20 games. “He didn’t allow them to get anything going. That’s how you keep rallies from happening. And then the ground-ball aspect. Those aren’t going over the fence.”

Owen struck out two, walked two and retired nine of the last 10 batters he faced. High Point (22-5), which beat Rowan three times this season, had only one baserunner advance as far as second base — and that came when python-armed Evan Edwards doubled to right in the last of the sixth.

“All three of my pitches were great and the defense worked real well,” Owen said after RC’s infield choked off rallies with inning-ending double plays in the second and fifth innings. “The key tonight was keeping the ball low and getting plenty of grounders.”

Owen said he took a power nap during a two-and-a-half-hour rain delay that preceded the game’s first pitch. He clearly wasn’t harping on his worst outing of the year, a May 28 misadventure when he allowed seven runs in two-thirds of an inning against HP.

“Nah,” he said. “I went to sleep. I didn’t think about that game, but it was nice to some revenge against them.”

Post 87 looked nothing like the team that breezed to the Northern Division championship, then destroyed Winston-Salem and Greensboro in the post-season series sweeps. It’s beefy lineup was handcuffed by Johnny O’s array of deceptively calculated offerings.

“You never know how (a delayed start) is going to effect you,” Gantt said from his front-row seat on the team bus. “Maybe they were flatter because they had to do a lot of field work and prep and that kind of thing.”

Meanwhile Rowan got some fireworks from its usual and not-so-usual suspects. First-baseman Hunter Shepherd barbecued a 1-0 pitch from right-hander Luke Gesell to open the scoring, then clocked a two-run double that made it 7-0 in the top of the eighth. Brandon Walton added a pair of hits, including a two-run single that capped the scoring. And Atwood went 2-for-5 with his first home run and three RBIs.

“I had one earlier that didn’t count,” said Atwood, who lost a round-tripper when Rowan’s game with Jacksonville was eventually rained out. “On this one I was looking for a fastball and (reliever Steve Guy) left it up and in. It felt good right off the bat.”

So did the bottom of the ninth, when Owen recorded his third 1-2-3 inning.

“That’s what John Owen is capable of doing,” Gantt said. “He got some rest and keeps getting better.”


NOTES: Rowan will play its final home game tonight at Newman Park. Gantt said left-hander Bryan Ketchie will get the start. … Rowan finished with 13 hits and drew 10 walks against three High Point hurlers.

Rowan Co.   003 020 05 — 10  13  0

High Point   000 000 00 — 0  2  2

WP — John Owen (4-1). LP — Luke Gesell (3-1). HR — Hunter Shepherd (6), Trevor Atwood (1).