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Legion baseball: Rowan loses final game in Challenge

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Rowan County made it interesting, got the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh, but Rock Hill walked away with a 7-4 victory on Sunday night.

Rowan coach Jim Gantt kept things in perspective after the setback. Rowan did, after all, win two out of three against premium opposition from South Carolina in the NC/SC Challenge.

“Sure, I’m disappointed that we lost today,” Gantt said. “But when you can win two out of three against the caliber of teams we were playing, you’ll take it. You’ll take two out of three every time.”

Rock Hill Post 34, state runner-up in 2017 to the Florence program that Rowan beat on Friday, has an immensely talented team.

Rowan (14-5) won’t run into a better lead-off man all season than Rock Hill’s Jordan Starkes, a Furman signee. Starkes not only went 4-for-4 and scored twice, his wide receiver’s speed put pressure on Rowan’s infielders and hurlers every time he got on base — and he just kept getting on base.

Rock Hill’s No. 3 stick Cameron Reeves signed with The Citadel, while No. 8 hitter Wesley Sweatt is an All-State pitcher headed to South Carolina.

Rock Hill sent Charleston Southern signee R.J. Petit to the mound to start and Furman signee Rob Hughes, another All-State player, to the mound to finish.

That’s a lot of Division I guys in one dugout.

“Both of their pitchers today were good, both had pretty good velocity, and both were tall guys who were throwing downhill and that made their fastball look quicker,” Gantt said. “Petit had a power slider, and Hughes’ main pitch was his curveball. You could tell it was really good because that was the pitch he always wanted to throw.”

It was a game scheduled to start at 5 p.m., but as the third game of the day, it didn’t get under way until 6:30. Rock Hill had already beaten Randolph County, 6-4, when it took on Rowan.

Rowan’s only Division I signee was on the mound, UNC Greensboro-bound Maddux Holshouser, but the lefty was hit hard in the first inning. Four hits and three runs, and Rowan was in a hole right away.

Holshouser gave up a loud double to Sweatt and a two-out single to Starkes in the second as the lead went to 4-0. When Petit socked an opposite-field homer in the top of the third, it was 5-0.

“Maddux always has a leg kick, but he was kicking a little higher today and it looked like he was off-balance,” Gantt said. “He kept getting in bad counts and kept pushing the ball up, and Rock Hill has guys who can swing the bats.”

For two innings, Rowan’s hitters looked overmatched against Petit. But in the bottom of the third, a couple of singles provided two baserunners with two men out, and then Rowan slugger Wayne Mize got hold of one.

“They kept pitching me away, away, away, so I was looking out there,” Mize said. “I got a fastball out over the plate, and I hit it solid.”

It was gone in a hurry, the fourth homer of the summer for the powerful youngster who is a rising junior at East Rowan. Mize led Rowan County during the high school season with seven homers.

That single blow gave Rowan life in front of a modest Father’s Day crowd, and the home team was able to stay in the game. Holshouser’s strongest two innings were the fourth and fifth. He put up zeroes, kept the deficit at 5-3.

“He started throwing some curveballs for strikes, starting mixing in some changeups,” Gantt said. “When he can do that, his fastball is good enough.”

Daniel Durham, another lefty, kept Rock Hill off the scoreboard in the sixth, shrugging off an error behind him and striking out the side.

But Rock Hill was able to tack on two big ones in the seventh. Starkes got an infield hit to start the trouble. Rowan shortstop Bryson Wagner tried unsuccessfully to backhand that ball in the hole, but he couldn’t have thrown out Starkes even if he’d been able to make a clean pickup. Starkes swiped second — he didn’t even need to slide —and that set the table for a two-run inning. A ball skipped past third baseman Trevor Atwood that might have been gloved, but it was stroked hard and was ruled a hit on the scoreboard.

The bottom of the seventh was exciting. John Owen walked. Then pinch-hitter Daniel Sell rapped into a double play that was impressively turned by Rock Hill. Sell is left-handed and runs well, but Rock Hill got two outs, and that turned out to be huge.

Pinch-hitter Luke Barringer doubled, launching a torpedo down the left-field line, to keep Rowan alive. Then Hayden Setzer sent a pitch whistling to the base of the center-field wall to plate Barringer with Rowan’s first run since Mize’s homer in the third. C.P. Pyle followed with a solid single to get Atwood, who has three homers, to the plate with the tying run.

That’s when Hughes won the last battle, striking out Atwood with a curveball.

“Rock Hill was good,” Mize summed up. “Their pitchers threw hard and they could hit.”

••••

NOTES: Rowan is off tonight and heads to Kernersville on Tuesday. … Gantt praised Wagner, who had a tough outing Saturday but bounced back with a good game in the field on Sunday. “Sometimes when you make three errors in a game, like he did Saturday, you start laying back on the ball,” Gantt said. “But he played really aggressive today, he charged the ball, and he made some plays.” … Rowan took a look at John Owen at second base on Sunday. He did fine … A boxscore is in Scoreboard. … South Carolina won all three games in the Challenge on Sunday but N.C. (thanks to Garner’s 3-0 and Rowan’s 2-1) still took the Challenge, 5-4. In the 12 years of the Challenge, N.C.  has won seven times. This was the first one held at  Newman Park.

Rock Hil      311    000  2    — 7   12   1

Rowan         003  000  1      — 4    6   1

W — Petit. L — Holshouser (0-2). S — Hughes.

HR — Rock Hill: Petit. Rowan: Mize (3).

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