Rowan wins 18th straight as Blackwelder goes 5-for-5

Published 12:09 am Saturday, June 24, 2017

By David Shaw

SALISBURY — Rowan County continues to operate at full throttle.

The Southern Division leaders stretched their winning streak to 18 games Friday night when they hammered visiting Kannapolis, 18-8, in eight innings.

“We’re a back-inning team,” winning pitcher Will Brown said after Rowan collected 21 hits, erased a five-run deficit and improved to 5-0 in division play. “Even though we were down in the first few innings, I knew we weren’t going to give up. Nobody wants to give up.”

He’s right. Post 342 is starting to resemble an old-time carnival fighter — taking on all comers and daring opponents to take a swing. It played this game with quiet insouciance, landing prominent blows until Kannapolis threw up its arms and surrendered.

“Rowan’s a very solid baseball team,” coach Joe Hubbard said after Post 115’s barren season continued. “We’ve played them four times and given up a ton of runs. They run and force the issue as well as any team I’ve ever seen. You feel pressured to make perfect plays.”

Kannapolis (0-10, 0-5) was far from perfect, but did build an 8-3, fourth-inning lead against Rowan starter Olen Stamper. The right-hander allowed eight hits — including Joe Tolone’s two-out home run in the third and doubles to Jacob Tuttle and Casey Richie — before Brown relieved with one out in the fourth.

“The offense has carried us the last couple games,” said Rowan coach Jim Gantt. “Middle relief has been good. (Thursday) night it was Joe Harrison and tonight Will Brown. He settled in and stopped them from scoring. That was key.”

Brown won his second game by yielding just one run in 3 2/3 innings of relief. He allowed four hits and struck out three.

“The pitching coach (Russ Weiker) told me to command both sides of the plate,” Brown said. “I had to throw it across the plate. I had a two-seamer that was working, a four-seamer that was working and a defense that was working. That’s a ball team.”

Rowan began running its comeback route as soon as Brown induced an inning-ending double play. It sent 14 batters to plate against losing pitcher Daniel Okelly and reliever Tuttle in the last of the fourth, a half-hour inning that saw Rowan score 10 runs on 10 hits. Most damaging were Chandler Blackwelder’s low-altitude, two-run homer and Pearce Wilhelm’s two-run double. Teammates Lee Poteat, Brandon Walton and Brycen Holshouser also delivered run-scoring hits.

“Innings like that are really fun,” said Blackwelder, who went 5-for-5 and reached base six times as Rowan’s leadoff batter. “I go through spells where I’m not making good contact, but I’m seeing the ball really well right now. On the home run, the pitch was low and inside. I didn’t really get under it, but I got it, and in this park you never know.”

Outfielder Henderson Lentz went 3-for-4, reached base five times, stole a base and was nailed trying to score from second on a fourth-inning passed ball.

“It’s the domino effect with us,” he said. “We’re silent for a while — one run in one inning, two runs in another — then break out for seven. Coach Gantt tells us not to be scared, to be aggressive and play the game the way it’s meant to be played.”

The game ended in the Rowan eighth when John Owen legged out an infield hit and took second on a low throw, advanced to third on Chandler Lippard’s groundout and scored when Trevor Atwood hoisted a sacrifice fly to shallow right field.

Hubbard was clearly disappointed after Kannapolis pitchers allowed 16 earned runs, walked six batters and hit three.

“There’s no such thing as a comfortable lead in Legion ball,” he said. “We scored eight runs, which should be enough to win most games. We just couldn’t stop them.”

NOTES: Blackwelder, who bashed one of three Rowan homers Thursday night against Mocksville, has three round-trippers this season. The team has eight. … First-baseman Walton suffered a mild hamstring injury stretching for a ball on RC’s inning-ending double play in the fourth. He later crunched a line-drive single off the left-field wall and was replaced by Lippard. … Former South Rowan favorite Tristan “Shaggy” Wyatt had two hits and an RBI for Kannapolis. … Rowan plays a double header in Florence, SC today before returning to Newman Park for games on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

Kannapolis    021 500  00 —  8   13   3

Rowan            201 (10)21 11 — 18   21  1

WP — Brown (2-0). LP — D. Okelly (0-3). HR — Tolone (3), Blackwelder (3).

Leading hitters — Kannapolis: Tuttle 2-for-3, 2 RS; Wyatt 2-for-4, RBI. Rowan: Blackwelder 5-for-5, HR, 4 RS, 3 RBIs; Owen 3-for-5, 3 RS; Lentz 3-for-4, 2 RS; Atwood 2-for-4, 2 RBIs, 2 RS.