Legion baseball: Rowan romps behind Owen
By Mike London
SALISBURY — The most important news in Rowan County’s 20th win of the season was finding an ace in the hole.
John Owen made his first start of the summer on the mound in Sunday’s 17-1 mauling of Mooresville at Newman Park. He worked five brisk innings, struck out four and allowed five singles and an unearned run.
“With John, it does change some things for us,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “It not only strengthens our rotation, it allows some guys to move into bullpen roles where they’re very comfortable.”
It was no coincidence that Owen’s first start and the first zero-walks outing by Rowan’s staff occurred on the same night. Lefty Henderson Lentz followed Owen with two sharp innings.
Owen, an East Rowan graduate headed to Pitt Community College, started the opening game of the state tournament, regional tournament and World Series for Rowan County in the glorious summer of 2016, but he finished the high school season nursing tendinitis. Basically, there was disccomfort whenever he threw a curveball, and he needs his curveball to be successful.
Owen had pitched a few relief innings, closing games, but he’d spent the rest of this summer playing third base and pounding the ball as Rowan’s cleanup hitter.
“I love pitching, and it was just a great feeling to be back out there,” Owen said. “It’s been a lot of fun hitting in this lineup and getting to play third base a lot, but pitching is important to me. It was like my first night, really, and I’m going to get sharper, but everything felt fine.”
Owen needed only seven pitches to get through the first inning. Mooresville (3-9, 2-5) scored in the second on two singles and a two-out error, but then Owen strolled through the third on just six pitches.
“It was vintage John Owen tonight,” Gantt said. “He worked fast, nice and easy, and he kept everything down in the strike zone. He didn’t throw as many curveballs and changeups as he normally would have, but that was just because of the situation and the score of the game.”
Owen enjoyed sensational run support from Rowan’s offense.
Singles by Chandler Blackwelder and Lentz got a seven-run, bottom-of-the first going. Owen drew the bases-loaded walk that made it 1-0 and the first of three HBPs for Trevor Atwood made it 2-0. Then Hayden Setzer hammered a 3-and-2 pitch to the wall for a bases-clearing double, as Atwood, Rowan’s catcher, rumbled home all the way from first.
“They walked some guys and hit some guys, and then we got that one big hit, and it’s 5-0,” Gantt said.
Before the inning was over, Griffin Myers had singled in a run, Blackwelder had lashed a sac fly, and Rowan had staked Owen to a 7-0 lead.
Setzer doubled again for an 8-1 lead in the second.
Blackwelder and Lee Poteat rocketed triples in the third as Rowan (20-1, 6-0) pushed the lead to 10-1. Blackwelder’s went high off the wall, while Poteat hit a slice down the line.
“If you’re not used to playing the outfield at Newman Park, that center-field wall can be tricky,” Blackwelder said. “I saw the center fielder was getting to close to the wall and I could tell the ball was going to bounce back over his head, and I knew I could get a triple.”
Tanner File and Blackwelder had doubles to highlight a three-run fourth for a 13-1 cushion.
Blackwelder had accumulated a single, double and triple after four innings and was naturally thinking about adding a homer for the cycle, but he stroked flyballs on his last two at-bats in the seven-inning contest.
“The cycle was definitely running through my mind on my last two at-bats,” Blackwelder said. “It would’ve been nice, but the main thing is I’m getting on base and seeing the ball well. Pitches were looking like beachballs tonight.”
After a bout with mono, File returned to second base during Rowan’s excursion to Florence, S.C., on Saturday. That freed Blackwelder, who had been filling in at second, to reclaim his favorite position — center field.
“It was a relief to be back in the outfield, but I know being versatile is going to help in college at UNC Pembroke,” Blackwelder said.
Poteat finished Rowan’s scoring with a grand slam in the fifth, after three walks loaded the bases.
Rowan had 13 hits.
“We swung the bats well, but the biggest thing tonight was John’s pitching,” Blackwelder said. “He’s a big-game pitcher and when he goes out there we’re going to have 100-percent confidence.”
Rowan is at home tonight against Concord.
NOTES: First baseman/reliever Brandon Walton remained sidelined with a hamstring issue. He tweaked the hamstring stretching for a throw in the Kannapolis game on Friday, and then aggravated the injury running to first after swatting a ball off the wall. Gantt said the good news is the injury appears to be day-to-day and not long-term. They’re not going to rush him, but Walton might be available soon… Rowan didn’t smack a homer until Blackwelder hit one in the eighth game of the season, but now Rowan is sending quite a few balls over the wall. Poteat’s blast was Rowan’s ninth in its last six games. … Rowan has won 20 or more games 12 straight seasons. The last time Rowan didn’t win 20 was in 2005 when the team was “disqualified” after the first round of the playoffs with a 19-8 record. … With Owen pitching, versatile Brett Graham started at third base. … Mooresville was playing its second game of the day, after losing to Mocksville, 11-4, in the afternoon. … Rowan was tired, as well, after a Saturday doubleheader in Florence. “But we felt OK,” Blackwelder said. “We got some good rest on the bus.”
Mooresville 010 000 o — 1 6 1
Rowan 712 340 x — 17 13 1
W — Owen (1-0). L — Wilson.
HR — Rowan: Poteat (1).
Leading hitters — Rowan: Blackwelder 3-for-5, 3 RBIs; Poteat 2-for-3, 4 RBIs; Lentz 2-for-3, RBI; Setzer 2-for-4, 4 RBIs; Atwood 1-for-2, 2 RBIs
breezed through five innings, allowing
West Rowan Falcons softball
2016 record: 18-7, lost 2nd round of the 3A state playoffs to South Point.
League record: 14-4, tied for second in the South Piedmont Conference with Cox Mill, one game behind Hickory Ridge.
Coach: Jimmy Greene is in his fourth season and has coached three straight strong teams. The Falcons had back-to-back 18-6 seasons and won league titles in 2014 and 2015. They had to replace two Division I signees last season but came very close to three-peating.
Greene is thankful Erin Foster (West Rowan, Western Carolina) and Ericka Nesbitt (East Rowan, Campbell), two former college standouts, are on his coaching staff.