Rowan Legion’s championship roll continues

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 24, 2016

By David Shaw

WINGATE — Second verse, same as the first.

Rowan County’s American Legion baseball team stuck to the blueprint Saturday when it combined top-shelf pitching with solid defense and timely hitting — and advanced to the third round of the state tournament.

“We’ve had two great outings from our starting pitchers,” coach Jim Gantt said at Wingate’s Ron Christopher Stadium, where Rowan brushed aside Area I champion Pitt County, 7-2. “That will get you there.”

Rowan (30-11) rode Bryan Ketchie’s golden left arm into tonight’s winner’s-bracket showdown with Whiteville, a 12-4 second-round winner against Garner. Ketchie allowed one run and scattered six hits in eight innings of yeoman’s work. It more than atoned for the beatdown he took at Newman Park last Sunday, when he yielded five runs in four innings against High Point in the Area III championship series.

“Yeah, that was kind of in the back of my mind,” Ketchie said after fanning six batters and walking three in his 107-pitch effort. “But this was a different team, with different guys. I just came out here with the mindset to win. And look at that — we had a really good day.”

They did. It was a game that brimmed with small pleasures — from the three sacrifice plays Rowan executed, to the seven bases it swiped, to the 15 singles it collected. Leadoff batter Chandler Blackwelder went 3-for-5 with three steals. Lee Poteat was 2-for-4 and delivered the game’s loudest hit, a two-run single that put Rowan ahead 4-1 in the sixth inning. Catcher Trevor Atwood had three hits and picked off a runner at first base. Tanner File and Jake Pritchard pulled off a double steal, with Pritchard scoring to tie the score 1-1 in the fourth. Slugger Juan Garcia got his first two hits of the tournament and Hunter Shepherd, who struggled at the plate in Friday’s opening-game win against Wilmington, drove in his team-best 59th run of the season with a towering, seventh-inning sac fly.

“We’re trying to win some rings,” said File, who legged out a pivotal infield hit and successfully dropped down a pair of sacrifice bunts. “We’re getting closer.”

Post 342 may not be in the driver’s seat just yet, but it’s certainly riding shotgun. Two of the state’s four area champions (High Point and Wilmington) were eliminated yesterday, opening a door for upstart Rowan.

“I don’t know if it’s our tournament to lose,” Gantt cautioned. “But I like our chances. We really don’t know what other teams have.”

They know what Ketchie (7-2) has. He blended a darting fastball with a parabolic curve and a knee-buckling change-up to retire nine of Pitt County’s first 10 hitters. Post 39 (23-6) scratched home a run in the top of the fourth when Macon Langston singled, took second base on a groundout and scored when Reese Farmer lined a two-out single into left field. Rowan answered immediately against PC southpaw Matthew Burne in its half of the fourth. Pritchard drew a one-out walk and took second on a wild pitch. File reached on an infield hit, putting runners on the corners with two away. With Blackwelder at the plate, File broke for second base.

“I got the steal sign,” File reported. “Pritchard, he’s the one who made a great read.”

Pritchard read the play like an eye chart and slid home with the tying run. One batter later, teammate Dalton Lankford’s RBI-hit put Rowan ahead for keeps. Poteat added his clutch hit in the sixth before the locals salted the game away with three runs in the seventh. “With more of a cushion, you don’t have to be so perfect,” Ketchie said.

You don’t. You just have to follow the blueprint.

NOTES: Tonight’s game with Whiteville (14-8) is scheduled for 7:30. Gantt said left-hander Brandon White (6-1) will start on the mound for Rowan. … Pitt County’s Clay Wilson had the game’s only extra-base hit, an eighth-inning double into the left-field corner. … Ketchie improved to 13-2 lifetime in Legion play. … RC has 24 hits in the tournament, including 23 singles.

Pitt County       000 100 001 — 2  9  1

Rowan Co.        000 202 30x — 7  15  0

WP — Bryan Ketchie (7-2). LP — Matthew Burne.