Legion baseball: Rowan’s comeback kids do it again

Published 12:23 am Sunday, July 22, 2018

By David Shaw


SALISBURY — It’s usually when the skies are darkest that the stars shine brightest.

Facing elimination for the third time this post-season — and with vultures circling above Newman Park — Rowan County received a walk-off home run from Luke Barringer and earned an invigorating 8-7 victory over visiting Randolph County on Saturday night.

“I thought our season was coming to an end,” first baseman Chandler Lippard said, after Rowan evened the Area III championship series at two games apiece. “But we battled back. It’s exciting playing in these big games and living for the moment.”

Rowan (30-10) was nine outs from putting its season to bed when it came to bat trailing 6-2 in the bottom of the fifth inning. Now, a victory in tonight’s decisive Game 5 at Asheboro’s McCrary Park can shoehorn Post 342 into the state tournament.

“Comebacks are no stranger to Legion baseball,” said John Owen, Rowan’s starting pitcher. “We’ve been able to dominate the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. We don’t change our mentality just because we’re facing elimination. We still have to win the game either way.”

They won this game by scoring five times in the last of the fifth, once in the sixth and again when Barringer drilled an opposite-field home against sidearm-slinging right-hander Travis Winslow with one away in the seventh. Lippard, who slugged a two-run homer in the Rowan third, said Barringer was simply overdue to connect.

“He means I ain’t hit one in about eight years,” Barringer joked afterward. “But the ball ran into my bat. It was about time.”

The blast was Barringer’s fifth of the season and first to right field. It capped an unlikely comeback and kept Rowan’s heart ticking for at least one more game.

“I was over there thinking we’re running out of outs,” said winning coach Jim Gantt. “But we had the right guys coming up.”

The right guy was veteran catcher Trevor Atwood, who sparked Rowan’s fifth-inning uprising with a three-run triple to the gap in right-center that trimmed the deficit to 6-5. He clocked a 3-2 pitch from Randolph starter Harris Jackson — and with one man out, third-base coach Seth Graham made a pivotal read on the play and windmilled Lippard all the way home from first base.

“Lippard gave Coach Graham an option to send him because he ran so hard from second (base) to third,” Gantt said. “And hey, when Atwood hits a triple, you feel like you’ve got a shot. That’s going on the board in the dugout.”

Rowan tied the score when Wayne Mize greeted Winslow with a ground-ball single into right field, then took a 7-6 lead on a controversial, two-out wild pitch. “The umpire said (Mize) reached around our pitcher and touched the plate,” Randolph coach Ronnie Pugh said after voicing his objection.

Post 45 (24-16) received a pair of towering home runs from Dawson Painter, both on mistake pitches served by Owen. The first came on a second-inning curve ball that Owen left high and over the middle. Painter walloped it over the wall in left-center for a three-run homer and a 4-0 Randolph lead. The second came in the top of the fourth, on an elevated 2-2 fastball that Painter crunched for his eighth round-tripper and a 5-2 advantage.

“Even though they hit me, they weren’t really bad pitches,” said Owen, who was pulled after five adventuresome innings. “They’ve been preparing for this game since the start of the series.”

Owen allowed six earned runs on seven hits, struck out seven and inexplicably hit three batters with pitched balls. He was spelled by Bryson Wagner, who walked four and blew a save opportunity by surrendering a score-tying unearned run in the top of the seventh, yet earned his second victory. That was accomplished with one out in the last of the seventh, when Barringer lined a sweeping 2-1 fastball that  barely cleared the wall in the right.

“I don’t remember the pitch or the swing,” he said. “I was just trying to square it on the bat. I thought it was going to hit off the wall, because it wasn’t very high at all. It just took off kind of flat.”

Pugh was equally surprised. “You’re not supposed to be able to lift that pitch,” he said. “But (Barringer) stayed with it and hit it the opposite way. He did the right thing with it.”

NOTES: Painter (2-0), a hard-throwing right-hander, will start for Randolph in tonight’s series-finale. Gantt said Rowan will piggy-back lefties Maddux Holshouser (3-3) and Daniel Durham (3-1). … Lippard, Mize and Durham each had two hits for Rowan. … Post 45 second-baseman Tatum Marsh injured his two front teeth when a batting-practice grounder took a bad hop. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Luke Hinson.

Randolph Co.     040  111  0 — 7   8   0

Rowan Co.          002  050  1 — 8   8   1

WP —Wagner (2-0). LP — Winslow (1-3), HR — Painter 2 (7 & 8), Lippard (7), Barringer (5).

Leading hitters — Randolph: Painter 2-for-4, 2 HR, 4 RBIs; Lanier 2-for-3, 2 runs. Rowan: Lippard 2-for-3, HR, 2 RBIs; Mize 2-for-3, double; Atwood 1-for-3, triple, 3 RBIs; Barringer 1-for-3, HR.