Rowan LL softball team reaches World Series final

Published 10:01 am Thursday, August 17, 2017

Staff report

PORTLAND, Ore. — Rowan’s Little League girls softball team has had some easy wins in the 2017 World Series and some would even call the games “laughers.”

There was nothing easy or funny about Tuesday night’s 6-5 victory over Floyds Knobs, Indiana, in the semifinals. It was nail-biter all the way, until Rowan erupted for four runs in the top of the sixth inning and then held off a furious three-run rally by their opponents in the bottom of the frame. Shortstop Emma Clarke caught a soft line drive to end the game.

“Just unreal, just unbelievable,” said manager Johnny Meadows, a self-employed real estate appraiser with deep roots in the western end of Rowan County. “I’ve coached in 2,500 baseball and softball games, some at the college level, over a 30-year period, and a bunch of 12-year-old girls are giving me the best coaching experience I’ve ever had.”

Rowan will take on Waco, Texas, a 5-3 winner over Delaware, in tonight’s championship game. The game will be televised live on ESPN2 at 9:00.

The Rowan team will be trying to duplicate the title won by the 2015 team of 11-12 year olds. Last year, Rowan made it to the championship game but lost to another team from Texas. Steve Yang managed those teams.

Meadows is the manager of this year’s squad and he had Rowan playing aggressively throughout the game. It paid off in the last inning, as Indiana’s defense failed them as all eight Rowan batters put the ball in play and ran the bases like sprinters.

Indiana had tied the game, 2-2, in the bottom of the fifth when Rowan catcher Brooke Kennerly couldn’t corral an 0-2 pitch from Karsen Simpson and Katelyn Satkoski scored from third base. Officially, it was ruled a passed ball on Kennerly, but just as easily could have been a wild pitch.

Rowan, the Southeast Region champs, wasted no time in getting the lead back — and then some. Clarke led off the sixth inning with hit, followed by another from Kennerly, on a short roller that may have gone foul had the third baseman not picked it up. Allie Burns doubled in the go-ahead run and then Madelyn VonCanon singled in two more.

VonCanon later scored on a squeeze bunt by Simpson and Rowan had a commanding 6-2 lead.

“We were giving her one swing and then we were squeezing that run in,” Meadows said. “We put some pressure on them, and, fortunately, they made some mistakes.”

But in true Little League fashion, Indiana, representing the Central Region, didn’t quit.

Indiana started a rally against Rowan relief pitcher Simpson, who had just entered the game in the circle. Simpson yielded three runs and recorded just one out before Meadows went back to starting pitcher Kendall Robinson.

With the bases loaded and the score at 6-3, Caroline Unruh blasted a fly ball to deep left field that looked like a possible game-winner. But Rowan Ashlee Ennis broke back immediately and grabbed the ball on the run, holding Indiana to a sacrifice fly and a 6-4 game. Ennis had been waved back a few feet right before she made the catch.

“That’s an 84-pound girl out there in left field, and for her to make a catch like that on national TV, my heart just burst,” Meadows said. “That was the biggest play of the game, without a doubt.”

Brooklyn Nolot then singled, driving in another run for Indiana, before Robinson was able to retire Kate Weber on a soft liner to Clarke at shortstop. The Rowan girls erupted for joy.

Rowan took a 1-0 lead in the third inning, as Kenadi Sproul plated Simpson with a groundout. Indiana tied it in the next inning when Taylor Chumbley, who had three hits, singled in a run.

In the fifth inning, Rowan pinch-hitter Lilli Heard singled and was replaced by runner Bentli Meadows, who promptly swiped second base. Meadows came around to score on a single up the middle from Sproul.

“We rolled the dice in the fifth, getting some girls in there, and they came through for us,” Coach Meadows said.

Clarke and VonCanon had two hits for Rowan and Brooke Piper scored two runs.

Sproul has 11 hits in Rowan’s six tournament wins. Clarke and VonCanon have 10 apiece.

Robinson pitched five innings for the win, allowing four hits and just one earned run.

Emory Waterbury pitched all six innings for Indiana, allowing eight hits and six runs, five of which were earned.

So Rowan has reached the championship game for the third straight year, and this time, in an undefeated fashion. The 2015 team won the title after actually losing a game in pool play.

“We beat a great team tonight, and I’m just excited for the girls,” Coach Meadows said. “Win, lose or draw tomorrow night, this is the best thing that I’ve ever been a part of.”

NOTE: Rowan third baseman Burns, who had a hit and RBI, sparkled defensively. Burns dove to her left in the second inning to grab a line drive, then jumped up and doubled a runner off of first base. The play made ESPN Sportscenter’s Top Ten plays of the day, coming in at No. 9.

Rowan         001  014 —  6   8   0

Indiana       000  113 —  5    6   3

Dennis Davidson and Mike London both contributed to this article.