Prep baseball: Falcons win a classic in 13 innings

Published 11:45 pm Saturday, April 8, 2017

By Mike London

MOUNT ULLA — Down a run with two men out in the bottom of the 12th, West Rowan’s baseball team desperately needed a baserunner, and when the count went to 3-and-0 on Olen Stamper, it looked like the Falcons might get one.

Stamper was supposed to take the cripple pitch from reliever Devin Guy, who had been baffling the Falcons, but he didn’t. Instead he hit the ball out of sight.  Tie game.

“I’ve never done anything like that before,” Stamper said. “I heard Coach Cauble say, ‘Throw it down the middle,’ and I had a good swing.”

Saved by Stamper’s dramatic blast, West went on to win in the 13th on Saturday, 2-1.

“I didn’t give him the green light,” said West coach Seth Graham, who wasn’t sure whether to laugh or scream. “But I’ve told them that if they swing at a 3-and-0, they’d better hit it in the trees. Fortunately, that’s exactly what Olen did.”

Everything is going right for the Falcons (13-3, 11-3), who lead the South Piedmont Conference. They’ve won 10 straight since being shut out at Carson, 1-0, by Owen White on March 16.

White treated West harshly again. He struck out a career-high 16, topping the 15-K game he had against the Falcons last season. Carson (10-6, 9-5) no doubt would’ve won in regulation except that Austin Love, who was on the wrong side of that 1-0 game at Carson, was on the mound for the home team. The UNC signee struck out nine and matched White, who owns a school-record 227 career strikeouts, pitch for pitch.  Love had a no-hitter until the top of the seventh. When he finally allowed a hit, it was naturally to White, who smoked a double to the fence.

As the zeroes piled up on the scoreboard, both teams had a plan. Actually, they had the same plan.

“We just wanted to hang on until Owen reached his pitch count and we got into their bullpen,” Graham said. “And I’m sure they were thinking the same thing about Austin.”

The 105-pitch limit for hurlers had White off the mound after seven innings. The unheralded Gay replaced him.  Love’s night as a pitcher ended with two men out in the Carson eighth. Dependable Brett Graham replaced him.

Gay and Graham didn’t strike out as many as the aces, but the zeroes kept coming.

Carson’s Cameron Prugh stole two bases in the eighth but was stranded at third.

Cauble believes the Cougars lost the game in the top of the 10th. That’s when they filled the bases with no outs on a walk to Brycen Holshouser and nice bunts by Prugh and  Jared Lamb.

“We let them off the hook there,” Cauble said. “Bases loaded, no outs, and you don’t score? That’s going to come back to bite you.”

Graham got out of that mess in the 10th by striking out Gay and Logan Ridenhour and getting White on a challenging chopper that he handled himself.

Ben Shoaf led off the Carson 11th with an infield hit, but his progress also ended at third base.

Finally, Carson broke the ice in the top of the 12th. Graham walked Prugh, and Garrett Alewine’s sacrifice and a wild pitch got him to third with two men out. Ridenhour’s clutch single, a solid one, made it 1-0 Cougars.

“Just trying to get the run in somehow, and I  hit a low fastball,” Ridenhour said. “Love and Graham were good. They threw a lot of curveballs and they were hitting spots.”

Stamper relieved Graham and got the third out in the 12th. He would wind up as the winning pitcher.

Gay, who had gotten the Falcons out in the eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th, had already done more than anyone could’ve asked. He went back to the mound for the 12th.

“Owen did an incredible job and Devin did an incredible job,” Prugh said. “West has really been hitting the ball lately. They put up 12 runs against South Rowan this week. But for 11 innings, we held them to zero.”

West’s two most fearsome hitters started the 12th. Gay got them out, Brandon Walton on a scorching grounder and Trevor Atwood on a hard flyball. Carson fans were on the verge of celebrating victory and Gay and Ridenhour were almost heroes, but then Gay fell behind Stamper. And suddenly Stamper connected. It was a rocket. Everyone in the park immediately knew it was gone.

Carson tried to regroup. Maddux Holhouser smacked a one-out single in the 13th, and continued on to third base on the only two errors of the game. But Stamper was able to rein in his emotions. He stranded yet another Cougar at third with a strikeout and a popup.

“I had so much momentum going after the home run,” Stamper said. “I just had to turn it into power on the mound.”

Coach Graham felt it was an advantage for West Rowan that they’d already played a marathon — a 14-inning affair that the Falcons won against East Rowan.

“We’d been there before,” he said. “The difference was there wasn’t a lot happening in the game with East. Tonight, there were a whole  lot of things happening.”

Mykal Berger walked to start the bottom of the 13th and stole second. Logan Sproul tried to bunt him to third and failed, but then he walked.  That was all for Gay, who would take the loss.

Cole Hales relieved Gay. Brett Graham greeted him with a perfect bunt. Hales fielded it and fired to third, but Berger beat the throw. Love, who had a walk-off to beat Carson in last year’s South Piedmont Conference Tournament, then stepped to the plate with confidence.

“He got two strikes on me, but I was determined to put it in play, to hit it hard somewhere,” Love said.

Love’s bullet to left ended a memorable game.

“We got the bases loaded, no outs, and didn’t score,” Cauble said. “They got the bases loaded, no outs, and they got it done. They were the better team.”

For Carson, in first place not long ago, it was the third loss in three days.  This was the toughest of the three.

“It was well-coached and it was well-played on both sides,”  Prugh said. “We fought as hard as we could fight. I’m proud of that.”

Carson         000  000  000  001  0   — 1   4   0

W. Rowan  000   000  000 001   1   — 2    5   2

HR — West: Stamper (1).

W — Stamper (2-0). L — Gay (0-1).