Rowan Legion tops Florence, 6-4, in the Challenge

Published 12:10 am Saturday, June 16, 2018

By David Shaw

SALISBURY — Say this much about Rowan County’s American Legion baseball team: It’s sense of timing was perfect Friday night.

Rowan scored all of its runs with two outs and earned a brand-name win against Florence in the NC/SC Challenge at Newman Park.

“This game shows what we can do,” outfielder Hayden Setzer said, moments after Rowan gained a 6-4 victory over South Carolina’s two-time defending state champion.

Setzer delivered a pair of late-inning RBI-hits while teammates Trevor Atwood and Chandler Lippard each contributed two-run singles, helping Rowan (13-4) win its third straight game. Unbeaten right-hander John Owen won his fourth game, striking out seven batters and allowing just one earned run in 6 1/3 innings.

“John Owen is a pitcher,” said Rowan coach Jim Gantt. “It’s not about throwing hard with him. He’s got good velocity, but it’s all about locating and moving the ball around.”

Owen was more of an artist than a craftsman on the mound. He moved pitches around the strike zone like chess pieces on a board, strategically blending a four-seam fastball that packed a punch with a sweeping curve that crossed at the knees.

“First of all, my arm really felt great tonight,” he said, after coaxing seven groundouts in an admirable, 105-pitch effort. “I was just trying not to overpower everybody and keep the ball down. I know the infield’s not going to make every play, but I assured them they were going to get more grounders and told them to play on.”

Rowan’s defense seemingly took a vacation day, committing four errors that Florence (10-2) parlayed into three unearned runs. But it also snuffed out potential rallies with inning-ending double plays in the third and fourth frames.

“That was a tale of two different games,” losing coach Derick Urquhart said after Post 1’s eight-game winning streak was halted. “I was extremely disappointed with the way we came out. We walked too many batters and made too many mistakes in the early innings. We left an 0-2 pitch down the middle and missed with a 1-2 pitch. But later in the game I was extremely proud of how we battled back and made it a ballgame.”

Rowan jumped on losing pitcher Noah Henderson — a hard-throwing southpaw who brought a 0.00 ERA into the game — for four runs in the bottom of the third. Garrett Alewine bounced a one-out single into center field and reached second base on Cameron Graham’s sac bunt. Following walks to Setzer and CP Pyle, Atwood steered an 0-2 pitch up the middle to plate the game’s first two runs.

“I remember I hit the first pitch foul and figured he’d slow me down with the second,” Atwood said. “It kind of shocked me when he threw a fastball that I took for strike two. After that I was just protecting, trying to put it in play and hit it hard somewhere.”

Next came a walk to Wayne Mize, Henderson’s third of the inning and fourth of the game, that reloaded the bases. Lippard made it sting when he lined a 2-2 pitch into left-center for two more runs and a 4-0 Rowan lead. “Lippard’s a guy that’s not afraid to hit with two strikes,” Gantt noted. “He takes pitches early in the count, works the pitcher and likes to hit with two strikes.”

Henderson lasted only 2 2/3 innings and was lifted after yielding four earned runs and three hits. “That was uncharacteristic of him,” said Urquhart, now in his 15th season as head coach. “He’s better than that, but he just couldn’t command the strike zone in that third inning.”

Rowan extended its lead to 5-0 with an unearned run against reliever Nick Collings in the last of the fourth. Graham beat out a two-out grounder and raced to second when a hurried throw eluded first baseman Dee McElveen. Setzer delivered the run when he sliced a single down the left-field line.

Florence scored a pair of unearned runs in the top of the fifth and closed within 5-3 when Austin Moore blasted a solo home run over the wall in right field an inning later. “One of only two change-ups I threw all night,” Owen lamented.

Setzer knocked home an insurance run in the Rowan sixth inning and Florence reached relief pitcher Daniel Sell for a run in the top of the seventh. With two runners aboard, Sell got Moore to ground out to first-baseman Lippard to end the game.

“It went to the right guy,” Gantt cracked afterward. “Lippard is smooth out there. It gave us our biggest win of the season.”

NOTES: Coupled with Garner’s 11-1 win over Rock Hill, the victory gives North Carolina a 2-0 lead in the Challenge. It won six of nine games in last year’s tournament. … Florence has won the South Carolina state title four of the past six years. … Left-hander Setzer (2-1) pitches tonight when Rowan meets Sumter at 6:30 p.m.

Florence (SC)      000  021  1 — 4   7   2

Rowan County    004  101  x —6   8   4

WP — Owen (4-0). LP — Henderson (2-1). HR — Moore (2).

Leading hitters — Florence: Moore 3-for-4, HR, RBI; Tuten 2-for-4, RBI. Rowan: Setzer 2-for-3, 2 RBI; Graham 2-for-2, sac; Atwood 1-for-3, 2 RBIs; Lippard 1-for-3, 2 RBIs.