American Legion Baseball: Rowan stays unbeaten in state tournament

Published 12:32 am Monday, July 25, 2016

WINGATE — Brandon White’s mission was to keep up with the superb starts Rowan County had gotten in the American Legion state tournament from hurlers John Owen and Bryan Ketchie.
White did what he set out to do. He pitched eight innings and allowed six hits, two walks and one run.
While a torn ACL kept White off Rowan’s state-championship roster in 2015, he’s more than making up for lost time. He’s now 7-1 for the summer and he keyed Rowan’s breezy, 10-1, victory against Whiteville late Sunday night at Ron Christopher Stadium.
“Our other pitchers here set the bar really high, but I tried to match Johnny O. and Ketchie,” White said. “This game really meant a lot to me because I missed the run last year.”
Rowan (31-11) is the only unbeaten team in the double-elimination event. Whiteville (14-9), Caldwell and Union County have one loss each. Caldwell and Union County stayed alive in elimination games on Sunday, ousting Garner and Pitt County, respectively.
Rowan plays Caldwell tonight at 7 p.m. Whiteville plays Union County in an elimination game at 1 p.m.
After White sailed through the top of the first, Rowan’s hitters made life a lot easier for him by getting six straight singles in the bottom of the first and putting up five runs.
“Well, we hit the first two off the cap, but they fell in, and that got us started,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “Then we got some good at-bats and balls went in the right spots. (Juan Garcia) hit one hard up the middle, but it’s a double play if it’s at somebody.”
Garcia’s two-run single to center was the key hit of the inning. Hunter Shepherd and Brandon Walton also found holes for run-scoring hits, and Rowan’s fifth run scored when Jake Pritchard bounced into a double play.
“I was a little nervous, but not super-nervous,” White said. “Then we got five runs and that gave me a cushion and that made it a lot easier to calm down and pitch.”
The top of the fourth was the key test for White.
“I had a few control issues,” said White, who gave up a leadoff double in the fourth. He also filled the bases with a pair of two-out walks, but then he hit the outside corner with a fastball for an inning-ending strikeout that preserved the 5-0 lead.
“Brandon was a little erratic in the middle innings, hit heart rate was up, and I went out there and asked him if he could handle it,” Gantt said. “He pitched around one guy in the fourth after he got behind him to get to a matchup he felt good about and then he got the out he needed. It was a pretty mature way of pitching.”
When Brett Graham walked with the bases loaded and Shepherd produced a sacrifice fly, Rowan pushed the lead to 7-0 in the bottom of the fourth. Shepherd now has 61 RBIs, a total that puts him in the all-time top 10 for a single season for Rowan Legion.
Whiteville’s last chance to make it a game came in the fifth when White allowed singles to the bottom two hitters in the lineup to start the inning. But all Whiteville could get was a sac fly (right fielder Lee Poteat made a powerful throw home, but catcher Trevor Atwood missed a swipe tag at the plate) to make it 7-1.
Rowan tacked on three more in the sixth with four walks, including a bases-loaded one to Walton. Atwood knocked in the other two with a two-out base hit.
White finished with only three strikeouts, but he did what he does, trusted his defense and pitched to contact. There were lots of groundballs, including one that produced a 5-4-3 double play in the third.
“I didn’t really have my good curveball, but my changeup was extra good and I was getting it down in the zone,” White said. “And I could spot my fastball.”
White, who tossed 95 pitches, was good enough that Rowan had chances at the 10-run rule in the seventh and eighth. But Rowan couldn’t push a game-ending run across.
The silver lining in the game going nine innings was that Noah Gonzalez, who needed some work, got to pitch the ninth and did well.
NOTES: Rowan has injury concerns, although both shortstop Dalton Lankford, who left the game after being struck in the helmet by a pitch in the second inning, and Caleb Link, who was nailed in the head by a throw from shortstop in the eighth when he was pinch-running, are expected to be OK. Graham, who has been a relief pitcher in recent weeks, stepped in for Lankford and did well in the field and at the plate. “They hit a ball to Graham immediately, and he made a good play in the hole,” Gantt said. … Right-hander Sawyer Strickland (5-2) will hurl for Rowan tonight.

Whiteville 000 010 000 — 1 6 1
Rowan County 500 203 00x — 10 11 0
W — Brandon White (7-1). L — Tyler Musselwhite.
Leading hitters — Rowan: Chandler Blackwelder 3-for-5, 2 runs, 2 SBs. Brandon Walton 2-for-4, 2 RBIs. Hunter Shepherd 2 RBIs. Juan Garcia 2 RBIs. Trevor Atwood 2 RBIs.