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Legion baseball: Rowan romps behind Setzer

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

ALBEMARLE — A letdown would’ve been understandable for Rowan County after a road trip to Sumter, S.C., and three quality wins in two days in the North Carolina-South Carolina Challenge.

But the letdown didn’t happen. Rowan pummeled Stanly County, 22-0, at Don Montgomery Park on Sunday night.

“We saw some really good pitching in South Carolina,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “Maybe it prepared us.”

A lot of sons made a lot of fathers — and grandfathers — very happy. Rowan rapped 19 hits and accepted 11 walks and three HBPs in a seven-inning game. Rowan got five shutout innings from starting pitcher Hayden Setzer and homers from Brandon Walton and John Owen in a romp that counts in the league standings.

Henderson Lentz, a North Rowan grad and Catawba basketball signee playing Legion ball for the first time, continued to shine. The lefty-swinging left fielder had four hits and scored five runs out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup. Walton, a Mars Hill-bound first baseman who was a veteran of last summer’s World Series run, knocked in six runs with a three-run homer, a two-run double and a sac fly to take over the team lead in RBIs with 19. John Owen, a standout hurler getting a chance to swing a bat as Rowan’s new cleanup hitter and third baseman, belted a grand slam and drove in five runs. He also walked three times, offering a pretty good impression of last summer’s star third baseman Juan Garcia.

Right fielder Lee Poteat, the 2016 Area III Player of the Year, never stops rolling. He had three more hits, three RBIs and scored three runs. He’s already smashed 11 extra-base hits.

“We really came out swinging the bats,” Gantt said. “Their starting pitcher (Jake Allen) was having some trouble throwing his curveball for strikes, and we were able to sit on fastballs and line them up early in the game. We had a three-run homer and a grand slam tonight, and when  you do that, well, you should win.”

Rowan (15-0, 2-0) has matched the great start of the 2002 team, a powerful squad that lost its 16th outing to Mooresville and then won 28 straight before losing in the Southeast Regional championship game.

Rowan scored in six different innings, and knocked out Stanly, which has players from Montgomery and Anson counties, as well as Stanly, by sending 13 men to the plate and scoring seven runs in the second inning.

Rowan got a break in the first inning when Lentz struck out on a pitch in the dirt but hustled down the line and reached first base safely when the ball got past the catcher. Poteat doubled high off the wall to put two men in scoring position. Owen’s RBI single through the left side and Walton’s sac fly staked Setzer to a 2-0 lead before he took the mound.

Rowan got another break in the bottom of the first when Stanly catcher Holden Davis’ line drive with two men on and one out went directly at Rowan shortstop Brett Graham.

Then in the top of the second, Rowan made a lot of things happen in that seven-run inning.

The big inning started innocently with two soft hits, an infield tapper by Chandler Lippard and a two-strike bloop by No. 9 hitter Brycen Holshouser. When leadoff man Chandler Blackwelder walked, Rowan had the bases full with one out. Lentz scorched a two-run single through the right side to make it 4-0 before Poteat’s long sac fly made it 5-0. Down in the count, 0-and-2, Owen battled back for a walk, and then Walton unloaded his three-run blast to center on a 3-and-1 fastball to push the lead to 8-0. Rowan still wasn’t done. A sharp single by Trevor Atwood, a hit batsman and a walk reloaded the bases, and Holshouser drew a free pass for a 9-0 cushion.

Setzer sat for a long time while Rowan batted in the top of the second, and Stanly came close to breaking through in the bottom of the inning. Stanly had runners on the corners with two men out when Setzer picked a runner off first base. That led to an inning-ending rundown, and Rowan’s defense executed.

“Setzer did sit through some long innings and a lot of pitching changes, but he did OK with all of it,” Gantt said. “He was getting better as the night went on.”

The rout was on in earnest after a four-run third that was highlighted by Walton’s two-run double.

Poteat’s RBI single in the fourth made it 14-0, and Rowan registered its 15th run when Walton bounced into a double play with the bases full.

With Rowan up 16-0 in the fifth, Owen launched his majestic grand slam to make it 20-0.

After taking a break in the sixth, Rowan tacked on its final two runs in the seventh on RBI singles by Lippard and Luke Barringer.

Setzer didn’t allow a hit in the third, fourth or fifth, and finished with six strikeouts. Noah Gonzalez pitched a peaceful sixth inning with one walk. Walton, a fireballer, made his first mound appearance of the summer in the seventh. He allowed two singles, but he also struck out two to preserve the shutout.

“He didn’t throw anything but fastballs, but he had a good one,” Gantt said.

•••

Rowan will take a well-deserved rest tonight, but Post 342 will start playing a long string of games without a break on Tuesday when it visits Kannapolis. … Second baseman Tanner File is expected to miss another week or so with mono, but he’s feeling a lot better than he was a week ago. … Boxscore is in Scoreboard.

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