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Legion baseball: Rowan starts second-round series

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Rowan County finally knows who its second-round opponent will be.

The Winston-Salem Spartans, coached by Mike Lovelace, will be at Newman Park at 7 p.m. tonight to open a best-of-five, second-round series in the  Area III playoffs. Game 2 will be at Winston’s home field at Mount Tabor, with Thursday’s Game 3 back at Newman Park.

Rowan (24-1) will have  a serious rest advantage.

Winston-Salem outlasted Kannapolis, 7-5, on Monday night in the decisive game of their best-of-three series. After a Saturday rainout, the teams split a well-pitched doubleheader in Winston-Salem on Sunday. There was only a three-day window to complete the first round, so the teams battled in wet conditions on Monday at Northwest Cabarrus High.

“It started raining in the second inning and didn’t stop,” Kannapolis coach Joe Hubbard said. “No lightning, no storms, just non-stop rain, but our field was dry and it took it pretty well. We fought as hard as we could’ve fought, but the breaks didn’t go our way. We wouldn’t have had enough arms left to start another series on Tuesday, much less a series with a team like Rowan County, but the guys really wanted to be there and tried hard to get there.”

Kannapolis got down quickly, 4-0, but got a homer from Robinson High slugger Joe Tolone and two hits from Cal Hubbard and battled back to 5-all after seven innings. Winston-Salem responded with the deciding blow, an eighth-inning double.

Kannapolis, which entered the playoffs as the No. 5 seed from the Southern Division, finished 4-14. Rowan and Kannapolis still haven’t met in a playoff series since 2006 when Kannapolis won Game 5 in a best-of-five, second-round series on a bad-hop single, a couple of walks and a bases-loaded hit batsman in the bottom of the ninth. Kyle Seager hit a home run in that game, so it’s been a while since the neighbors have squared off in the playoffs.

Rowan has a 10-game winning streak against Kannapolis over the last four years.

Winston-Salem (9-11) entered the playoffs as the Northern Division’s No. 4 seed.

Winston-Salem has enjoyed previous success against Rowan County in the playoffs.

Winston-Salem took the series, three games to one, when it battled Rowan County in the 2014 Area III semifinals. That was a good Rowan team that provided a large chunk of the current Catawba roster — Riley Myers, Chance Bowden, Luke Setzer, Harrison Baucom, Heath Mitchem, Jeremy Simpson, Hunter Shepherd — but Winston-Salem seized a pivotal Game 3 at Newman Park and then finished off Rowan at home. Winston-Salem actually played its home games in that series at Mocksville’s Rich Park. Lovelace coached many stout Mocksville Legion teams before getting the program started in Winston-Salem.

Rowan County coach Jim Gantt, at the helm for the 17th season, has compiled an outstanding record of 492-177. That record includes 131-53 in playoff games. Gantt has led Rowan to 25 state-tournament wins, 15 Southeast Regional wins and five World Series wins.

Rowan has put up the terrific record it has this season without any Division I players, signees or commits. The only players on the roster with any college experience are right fielder Lee Poteat, who played this season at St. Andrews, lefty Brandon White, who red-shirted at Belmont Abbey, and right-hander Noah Gonzalez, who pitched some at Guilford Tech.

Rowan still has put up serious offensive numbers, with Poteat, center fielder Chandler Blackwelder, a UNC Pembroke signee; Henderson Lentz, a Catawba basketball signee who is playing Legion ball for the first time, and John Owen, who is headed to Pitt Community College, leading the way.

Rowan won its first 18 games before losing to defending national champ Texarkana, Arkansas., in a tournament in Florence, S.C. Since that setback, Rowan has won six in a row. Rowan has scored double-figure runs in every game since the 6-1 loss to Texarkana.

Rowan is getting it done on the mound by committee. Believe it or not, 10 different pitchers have won at least one game for Rowan this season. Pitcher/shortstop Griffin Myers, a rising senior at Salisbury High, is 4-0, as is lefty Joe Harrison, a Belmont Abbey signee.

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