Undefeated Junior Legion beats Concord in opener

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 10, 2017

By David Shaw

GRANITE QUARRY — East Rowan’s Junior Legion baseball team is halfway to Rich Park, site of next weekend’s state tournament, but getting there wasn’t easy.

Unbeaten Post 342 surrendered two seventh-inning runs Sunday night at Staton Field and needed a spectacular, game-ending defensive play to hold off Concord, 3-2, in the Area III championship series opener.

“That was nerve-wracking,” catcher Charlie Klingler said after East (25-0) drew first blood in the best-of-three set. “They competed the entire game, especially the seventh inning. But that’s what makes baseball great. You never know what’s going to happen.”

A victory in Game 2 tonight at Mount Pleasant High School will lift East into the state tournament beginning Friday in Mocksville. A loss would force a decisive third game in Granite Quarry on Tuesday.

“That was closer than I wanted it to be,” reliever Corbin Moss exhaled after earning a molar-grinding save. “But it made it more fun.”

This one concluded with Concord runners on every base and second-baseman Matthew Mathis making a bare-handed grab on Jonathan Ackett’s infield smash, then inducing a game-ending force out.

“It was hit hard and took a funny hop,” said East coach Brian Hightower. “(Mathis) just put his hand up and it went in there. Unbelievable. You’ve got to make your breaks, but sometimes luck has something to do with it.”

Concord (18-5) had won four straight games and got a lights-out performance from losing pitcher Isaiah Boger. The slender lefty allowed only four singles in six innings, but suffered his first loss.

“He did a really good job keeping the ball low in the (strike) zone,” Post 51 coach Cory Childress said after Boger coaxed eight groundouts and retired East’s last 11 batters. “He worked ahead in the count and that gives you opportunities to be creative.”

East scored twice in the bottom of the first inning against Boger, when Concord made two errors. Mathis singled and scored the game’s first run on a one-out throwing error. Moss followed with a base hit, moved to third on the same miscue and came home on a wild pitch.

“We had a good approach, especially with two strikes,” Moss said after contributing two singles. “And we executed on those mistakes.”

East played small-ball and watched it’s lead grow to 3-0 in the last of the third. Klingler led off with a sharp single to left field and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Mathis. Moss’ base hit up the middle put runners at the corners before Wayne Mize hoisted a sac fly to right.

It appeared that would be enough for winning pitcher Jake Hunter, a 14-year old rising freshman who threw a first-round no-hitter against Stokes County on July 1. He wasn’t as commanding last night, but used a sweeping curve ball to steer clear of trouble, scattering six hits and finishing with six strikeouts in six shutout innings.

“I missed some spots and they had some good swings,” Hunter said after throwing 92 pitches. “I was very nervous. My curveball was on and it was off. Like in the first inning, I hit the (second) batter with it. But with the next guy, I threw it right where I wanted to.”

Childress, for one, was impressed. “When it was time to make a big pitch, he was ready to make it,” he said.

Concord finished with 10 hits, including four against Moss in the top of the seventh. Logan Mauldin drove in Post 51’s first run with a line-drive single to left and Drake Boger’s fielder’s choice plated the second. Moss made his best pitch with the bases loaded when he forced a shallow fly ball to Mize in left field for the second out.

“We were in trouble pretty much that whole last inning,” Hightower said. “The big out was getting the No. 3 hitter to fly out to Mize. He made the catch in shallow left and got a good throw to the plate. I guess we had to make it interesting.”

The game’s final pitch made it worthwhile.

“Moss was putting it right in there,” said Klingler. “He was doing everything right. They were just hitting it hard. Thank goodness Mathis got that last ball.”

NOTES: Hightower said right-hander Jake Davis will start for East tonight. Childress hadn’t decided who’ll get the ball for Concord. … Klingler picked off a baserunner at first to end the opening inning, then threw out a courtesy runner attempting to steal second base in the third.

Concord        000 000 2 — 2   10   2

East Rowan   201 000 x — 3    4    1

WP — Hunter (5-0). LP — I.Boger (1-1). Save — Moss.

Leading hitters — Concord: Mauldin 2-for-3, RBI; Parker 2-for-3, RS. East: Moss 2-for-3, RS; Mathis 1-for-2, RS.