Raiders stay in race with win at East Rowan

Published 11:24 pm Thursday, April 27, 2017

By David Shaw

GRANITE QUARRY — Down the stretch they come in the SPC baseball race — and that’s South Rowan making a late-season move on the outside.

The Raiders have won three of their last four conference games after Thursday’s molar-grinding 6-5 victory at East Rowan. They’ll close the regular season tonight at J.M. Robinson with a chance to finish tied for first place.

“Don’t count us out,” winning pitcher Walker Joyce said after South (15-8 overall) held off East’s three-in-the-seventh charge. “We’re still here.”

The victory gave South sole possession of third place and secured a home game when the conference tournament opens Monday. “This is an experienced group,” coach Thad Chrismon said. “They’ve been around the block a few times. I think we’re a good team.”

They were a relieved team after senior right-hander Tyler Belk nailed down the last two outs, inducing a fly out and strikeout with East runners leading off of first and second base.

“We were just a couple of hits and a couple outs away from winning it,” East infielder Chandler Blackwelder said after the fifth-place Mustangs (15-9 overall) finished 11-7 in league play. “It came back to bite us in the butt.”

South rode Joyce’s lively right arm to a 6-1 lead after five-and-a-half innings. He persevered into the seventh, finishing with six strikeouts, no walks and won his sixth game.

“I love him to death,” said East coach Brian Hightower. “He pitches with a little bit of spit to him. He changes arm angles, throws his fastball and curveball for strikes and locates everything. You can’t say enough about him.”

Joyce retired 12 of 13 East batters during one stretch before faltering in the bottom of the seventh. “He was hitting spots,” said South catcher Jarrid Nelson, a mid-season call-up from the junior varsity. “And as long as he’s doing that, you can’t touch him. He gets into a rhythm and stays there.”

South led 6-2 when East’s Matthew Mathis plunked a leadoff single into right field in the seventh. Corbin Moss reached on a two-base error, putting two runners in scoring position, before Trevor Scruggs delivered a run-scoring groundout.

“Sometimes, Walker gets too much plate,” Chrismon said. “But he’s such a tough competitor. I went out there and he said he’s not coming out until he runs out of pitches.”

Three batters later — following singles by Blackwelder, John Owen and winning pitcher Hayden Setzer — Chrismon had no choice. Setzer’s hit made it 6-5 and came one pitch after he launched a 1-2 pitch over the right-field fence — but foul by about 15 feet.

“He hit it well, but it was just a long strike,” Joyce said afterward. “Late in the game, they were picking up on my patterns.”

Setzer, meanwhile, struggled with his command. The tall left-hander struck out eight, walked three, hit two batters and uncorked three wild pitches in 5 2/3 innings.

“I thought he threw OK,” Hightower said. “There were a couple of situations where we could have played better behind him. He could have had a better result.”

Hightower was more impressed with East’s late-game awakening. “Everybody in the ballpark probably thought the game was over at 6-1,” he said. “We scratched one out in the sixth (inning) and competed in two-strike counts in the seventh. We put it in play and some of them fell in.”

It all stopped when Belk turned off the spigot. The game ended when he fired a heavy, 3-2 fastball past Jax Fitz.

“We were just trying to make him swing and miss,” said Nelson. “All I had to do was catch it and it was over.”
South Rowan    010 122 0 — 6   6   3

East Rowan      100 001 3 — 5   9   1

WP — Joyce (6-1). LP — Setzer (6-2). Save — Belk (1).

Leading hitters — South: Larrimore 1-for-3, RBI, RS, SB; C.Norton 1-for-3, RBI, RS, SB. East: Blackwelder 2-for-4, RBI, 2 RS, 2 SB; Setzer 2-for-4, RBI.