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Legion Baseball: Rowan rallies in Round 1, 500th win for Gantt

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

GREENVILLE — Rowan County Post 342 players weren’t quite brave enough to douse coach Jim Gantt with a full-fledged Gatorade bath, but right fielder Lee Poteat doesn’t fear anything and he made sure Gantt got soaked a little.

Gantt got his 500th win with the American Legion program on Friday in the first round of the state tournament, as Area III runner-up Rowan took charge late and beat Area IV champ Cherryville, 9-3, at Pitt Community College.

“Poteat told me they were afraid they’d all get cut if they poured the whole bucket on me,” Gantt said with a chuckle. “But they did get me wet.”

It was a special victory, as Rowan trailed 3-0 very early and still trailed 3-2 going to the eighth. That’s when Hayden Setzer delivered the single — the lefty slapped a fastball to the opposite field — that got Rowan (32-3) even. Then pinch-hitter Brett Graham followed by pulling the single to right that put Rowan on top.

Rowan came back from dropping the final two games of the Area III championship series to a strong Randolph County team that won its first game in the state tourney against Shelby.

“We didn’t play well in that Randolph series, but Lee Poteat has been our leader all year and he got us together and told us we had to put those two losses behind us,” winning pitcher Joe Harrison said. “He reminded us we didn’t win Area III last year either, but then we played in the national championship game. He told us we were 0-0 and now we needed to get five wins to get one ring. We’ve had some long winning streaks this year. We know we’re capable of winning five in a row.”

It couldn’t have started much worse for Rowan. Ace John Owen was smacked around for four hits and three runs in the bottom of the first, with the damaging blow — a two-out, two-run single — delivered by Cherryville catcher Wade Walker.

“But then Owen settled in,” Gantt said. “He gave us a chance, and I thought our whole team showed some toughness after that bad start.”

Rowan wrote a textbook on offensive futility early against Cherryville starter Robbie Cowie, leaving the bases loaded in the first. Tanner File’s leadoff double was wasted in the second. Poteat tripled with one out in the third, but was stranded.

“Cowie had a good split-finger pitch to go with his fastball and curve,” Gantt said.

The game changed in the fourth when Setzer, batting eighth as Rowan’s DH, drilled a two-out double.

Owen is a good hitter, but Gantt wanted him to focus on pitching and didn’t want him running the bases on a 96-degree day, even a 96-degree day with a decent breeze. So Setzer saw his name on the lineup card as the DH. Gantt wanted another left-handed bat in the lineup to go along with Henderson Lentz and Brandon Walton, and Setzer got a shot.

“I was just glad to be in there,” Setzer said. “I didn’t know I was playing until I looked at the lineup.”

No. 9 hitter Brycen Holshouser followed Setzer’s double with the clutch hit that put Rowan on the board. Holshouser then ran the bases aggressively. A passed ball moved him a base. He stole third, then scored on another passed ball, and it was 3-2.

“You could feel the momentum changing,” Gantt said. “We were hitting the ball. If we’d gotten key hits early, we could’ve scored a whole lot of runs.”

Owen put up zeroes in the second, third, fourth and fifth, bulldozing Cherryville’s powerful lineup.

In the bottom of the sixth, with Rowan still down 3-2 and with Owen approaching his 76th pitch, Gantt had a decision to make. If a pitcher throws 75 pitches, he’s required to rest three days. If he’s throws 76 or more, he can’t pitch for four days, so he’s done for the tournament.

Rowan conducted a mass meeting on the mound. Second baseman Tanner File voiced exactly what Gantt was thinking. Even though his team was behind, File had confidence Rowan would still be playing on the final day of the tournament, and he wanted Owen to be the guy on the mound if that happened.

“It’s like File said,” Gantt explained. “If our other pitchers couldn’t get it done, it wasn’t going to matter anyway. But if our other guys did come through, then we’d have a chance to come back with John later in the tournament. It’s not like we were splitting the atom out there or having some deep conversation, it was just a pitching change. File said, ‘Let’s make the move.’ And we did.”

Owen handed the ball to Gantt. Gantt handed it to Harrison, a lefty headed to Belmont Abbey. Harrison was a victim of the final cuts Rowan had to make last year. He’s been good all summer, and he was good again. Actually, he was great. He shut out Cherryville the rest of the way.

“My changeup was good and I started a lot of hitters out with it,” Harrison said. “I got some quick outs, got guys out on their front foot. I got ahead of a few guys with the changeup and then got strikeouts (four) on curveballs. And when I needed to throw a fastball, I was able to spot it.”

Rowan had taken control of the game — everywhere except the scoreboard. Cherryville (31-7) still led 3-2 until the eighth.

A hit by Brandon Walton opened the eighth, and with a 2-and-1 count on Trevor Atwood, Cherryille coach Bobby Dale Reynolds went to the bullpen to Matt Bumgarner. Atwood walked, Chandler Lippard singled and the bases were full with no outs.

There was one out when Setzer stepped to the plate and made it 3-3 with his opposite-field single on a fastball.

“There was a little bit of pressure there, obviously,” Setzer said. “Just lucky enough to come through.”

Graham, a reliever/shortstop, had been getting his arm loose in the bullpen prior to the eventful eighth.

“I got the word that I might be used as a pinch-hitter for Holshouser,” Graham said. “I came to the dugout, started getting ready.”

With a right-hander on the mound, Gantt sent the lefty-hitting Graham to the plate for the right-handed hitting Holshouser. It was the percentage move that he usually makes. Graham made the move look brilliant. He took a curveball, then hammered the second pitch he saw to right field to put Rowan ahead, 4-3.

“We struggled early, but then we got the momentum and kept it,” Graham said. “We had a lot of confidence at the plate in that inning, and we found the holes.”

Rowan didn’t stop there. Henderson Lentz smacked a double to drive in two more runs. Harrison went back to the mound for the eighth, leading 6-3.

Rowan piled on in the ninth for three more. Again Walton started it, this time with Rowan’s fourth double. Infield hits by Atwood and Lippard loaded the bases. After back-to-back strikeouts, Graham was hit by a pitch to plate a run. Then leadoff man Chandler Blackwelder, who had been quiet, ripped a two-run single up the middle to make it 9-3.

Harrison ended the game with a flourish. A good curveball induced a game-ending double play grounder

Only two Cherryville batters reached base against Harrison. He’ll have to sit out today, but he’ll be eligible to pitch again Sunday.

“Together, Owen and Harrison threw 107 pitches in nine innings,” Gantt said. “That’s being efficient.”

Gantt didn’t dwell on his 500th win. No big deal. After all, he’s won 757 games coaching Catawba.

“But I do think it’s a win I’ll remember because it was in the state tournament and it was against Cherryville,” Gantt said. “It’s ironic, but Cherryville beat us the day that Coach Reynolds passed Joe Ferebee in Legion wins. It’s a milestone. Milestones come through longevity and they come because of great players and the chance to coach great programs.”

Rowan will play 10-time state champ Wilmington, a first-round winner against Garner, today at 4 p.m.

Gantt said either Setzer, a lefty, or Olen Stamper, a right-hander, will start. The determining factor will be the number of lefties in the Wilmington lineup.

Rowan          000   200  043   — 9  15  1

Cherryville  300  000  000   —  3   7  1

W — Harrison (6-0) L — Cowie.

Leading hitters — Rowan: Brett Graham 1-for-1, 2 RBIs, Brandon Walton 2-for-4, Hayden Setzer 2-for-5, RBI, Tanner File 2-for-5, Chandler Lippard 2-for-5, Lee Poteat 2-for-5, Henderson Lentz 2 RBIs, Chandler Blackwelder 2 RBIs, Trevor Atwood 2 runs, Brycen Holshouser RBI.

Cherryville: Wade Walker 3-for-4, 2 RBIs.

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