Junior Legion baseball: East’s great season comes to an end
Junior Legion team falls to Concord
By Mike London
GRANITE QUARRY — Undefeated on Sunday. Season over on Tuesday.
It was a sudden crash landing for East Rowan’s Junior Legion baseball team, which reeled off 25 straight wins before losing back-to-back outings against Concord Post 51 in the best-of-three Area III championship series.
An agonizing 6-4 loss on its home grass and dirt at Staton Field slammed the door on East’s season. Mocksville is hosting the state tournament that starts on Friday, so only the Area III champion moves on to join Mocksville. Most years, both of the Area III finalists get the opportunity to play for the state crown.
“It hurts for it to be over because we busted our humps all summer and played some good baseball,” East Rowan coach Brian Hightower said. “The last two days, we probably played our worst two games, and it was a bad time to do it. But that’s not to take anything away from Concord. They’ve got a good team, they outplayed us, and they deserved to win.”
One play swung things around. East led 1-0 in the top of the fourth, and East starting pitcher J.D. Basinger made a perfect pitch to Logan Mauldin with one out and one on. East second baseman Matthew Mathis gloved the bouncing ball smoothly, near second base. If he’d been a step from the bag, he would’ve simply touched the bag and fired to first for a routine twin-killing that would’ve put Basinger in the dugout with the lead.
But Mathis was a step and half away from the bag and got caught in between. He started toward the bag, then shoveled the ball to shortstop Bryson Wagner. Wagner couldn’t hold the ball, and instead of getting two outs, East got none.
“Perfect pitch and we’ve got the double-play ball,” Hightower said. “We make the play and we’re out of the inning.”
Instead, Concord (20-5) was on its way to a pivotal, four-run outburst. Basinger had to keep pitching to a hitter-friendly strike zone. He walked No. 8 batter Bryson Taylor and when he hit 9-man Cory Mullis with a curveball, it was 1-all. Then Drake Boger walked on a close, 3-2 pitch that had East fans howling, and Concord led 2-1. Then Ick Cirino battled until he got a pitch he could handle. He pulled a Basinger offering between third baseman Blake White and the bag for the clutch, two-run single that gave the visitors a 4-1 lead.
East spent the rest of the night playing uphill.
“We respect the heck out of East Rowan, and believe me those guys were 25-0 for a reason,” Concord coach Cory Childress said. “That Basinger kid is going to be special and he had a good curveball with a very tight spin that was hard for our hitters to pick up, but by the fourth inning we were reading the curveball better and jumping on some fastballs. We strung good at-bats together. We put a ball hard on the ground on that key play, and when they made a mistake defensively, we were able to take advantage. We turned the momentum in our favor.”
The drama was a long way from over. In the bottom of the fourth, Wagner and Wayne Mize smashed hits to left to put runners at second and third against Concord starter Noah Phelps. Jake Davis, who already had made a sliding catch in center field to help Basinger, lofted a sac fly to get East a run closer. Blake White’s two-out single made it 4-3, and Post 342 was right back in it.
White relieved Basinger to start the fifth and allowed two hits and a walk to the three hitters he faced. Zane Shirah’s RBI single pushed Concord’s lead to 5-3. Corbin Moss relieved White and was effective, but Mauldin’s ground ball to the right side, even with the infield playing in, got a run home and made it 6-3.
Another devastating sequence occurred for East came in the bottom of the fifth after Charlie Klingler walked and Mathis was hit by a pitch to start the inning. Childress went to the bullpen at just the right time, and Adam Wilkerson, a smallish southpaw with surprising heat, entered the action. Wilkerson fanned East’s 3-4-5 hitters — Moss, Wagner and Mize — and a great opportunity went by the wayside.
“We just didn’t hit with runners in scoring position tonight — and Concord did,” Hightower said.
In the sixth, East had Wilkerson in trouble, but he dodged two hit batsmen and a walk by striking out the side again. East picked up a run on a balk, but Wilkerson showed poise and struck out Mathis on a 3-and-2 pitch to close the inning.
Moss shut down Concord in the late innings and gave his team a chance to come back.
Mauldin, moved from third base to the mound in the seventh to close it for Concord. He allowed a one-out single to Wagner — Wagner’s third hit — but he struck out Mize and got Jax Fitz to ground out. Joey Tuders, who had just entered the game at third as Mauldin’s replacement, fielded Fitz’s bouncer behind the bag, almost on the line, but zipped a strong, accurate throw across the diamond for the final out.
“That’s the way it goes in baseball, a kid comes off the bench, and they hit it to him and he makes the play,” said Childress, whose team finished as Area III runner-up to Carson in 2016. “We kind of figured right from the start of this season that it was going to come down to our kids and East Rowan. I’m proud of my guys. They won a great series.”
NOTES: Mathis made a diving stop in the sixth to save a run … Basinger stranded Concord runners at second and third with a third-inning strikeout … There were six hit batsmen. … A boxscore is in Scoreboard.
Concord 000 420 0 — 6 7 0
East 100 201 0 — 4 7 1
W — Phelps. L — Basinger. S — Mauldin.
Leading hitters — Concord: Cirino 1-for-2, 2 RBIs; Jonathan Ackett 2-for-4; Maven Parker 2-for-3. East Rowan: Wagner 3-for-4.