Legion baseball: After 3-hour rain delay, Rowan prevails, moves on to state tourney
Published 3:15 am Monday, July 23, 2018
By Mike London
ASHEBORO — Rowan County battered Randolph County, 8-1, on Sunday night at water-logged McCrary Park to take the best-of-five Area III championship series three games to two.
Rowan punched its ticket for the last available berth in the state tournament (it starts Thursday, with High Point hosting). Randolph County won’t be part of the state field, but Post 45 will live to play again as the Southeast Regional host.
It was after 10 p.m. when the first pitch was thrown because of multiple weather issues — hail, rain, lightning, wind, you name it. It was after 1 a.m. when they managed to finish.
“We had a storm before the game that was a real doozy,” Rowan head coach Jim Gantt said. “Rained so hard we couldn’t even see the Randolph dugout. Fortunately, they’ve got a turf infield. I don’t think there’s anywhere else we would have gotten this game played tonight.”
Rowan had been down two games to one against Randolph (24-17) and had faced the same daunting deficit in the preceding series against High Point. Rowan somehow has weathered four straight elimination games.
“Maybe High Point and Randolph played a little more relaxed because their seasons weren’t going to end even if they lost,” Gantt said. “But those are really good teams, and I know we were fortunate to beat them. I give our guys credit. They were really into the game tonight, even with the long delays. That homer Luke Barringer hit (to win Game 4) probably was the key to this series.”
Rowan (31-10) swung the bats fiercely in Game 5 against Dawson Painter, a steady, experienced hurler, and rode stout pitching from southpaws Maddux Holshouser and Daniel Sell to a relatively easy victory.
The closest call actually came in the Randolph sixth when Rowan accidentally violated the Legion pitch-count rule when reliever Daniel Durham made his first — and only — delivery to the plate. Durham fired 70 pitches Thursday in helping Rowan win Game 2 of the eventful series. That was a workload that, by rule, requires three full days of rest, but Durham had only sat out two days. Randolph head coach Ronnie Pugh was all over the situation, brought it to the attention of umpires, and Durham was immediately removed from the mound.
“We screwed up, made a mistake as a coaching staff and that’s my responsibility,” Gantt said. “We thought Durham had only thrown 58 pitches Thursday and was eligible to pitch. We’re fortunate Ronnie Pugh is such a class guy. That was a protestable situation for him, but he didn’t want to file a protest. He didn’t want to win a game like that. He just wanted Durham out of the game, and once he was out, he was ready to play the rest of the game straight-up. I like to think I would’ve done the same thing if the situation had been reversed.”
The main story was Holshouser, who held hard-hitting Post 45 to one hit in five innings, while his teammates constructed a 5-1 lead. Holshouser didn’t miss a lot of bats, but he did miss barrels.
“I only struck out three guys,” he said. “But our defense made a lot of plays. I just let them work.”
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, they say, and Holshouser was almost eerie proof of that.
On a dreary, rainy, late-July night in 1984, Rowan County beat Asheboro, 13-12, in 11 innings to take the deciding Game 7 of the Area III championship series. The winning pitcher in that unbelievable contest was a fellow named Jeff Holshouser, who relieved in the 10th inning and finally encountered some luck. Holshouser had lost Game 1 of the series, 1-0, despite striking out 15. He’d also lost Game 6, striking out 15 more before finally weakening in the 11th inning. There were no pitch-count rules to fuss with in those simpler times, and Jeff found redemption by winning the decisive game 24 hours after he’d pitched 11 innings. It was a victory that propelled Rowan on a ride to the state championship.
Rowan had lost in the Area III championship series to Asheboro/Randolph teams in 1962, 1975, 1982, 2001, 2007, 2008 and 2017. Rowan had managed to beat Asheboro clubs in 1979 and 1984. That 1984 victory was the most recent for Rowan until another Holshouser, 34 years later, finally got it done in another series-deciding game on another rainy night. Maddux Holshouser is Jeff’s son.
The weather provided the most difficult challenge for Maddux.
“I got ready, I sat down, and then I had to get ready again,” he said. “I was warmed up pretty good when we finally started. I was ready to pitch a good game, and it just worked out for me. My curveball was working. That was key. I could throw it for a strike anytime I needed to.”
Painter had the only hit for Randolph off Holshouser, whistling a clean one with one out in the third.
Randolph scored in the first inning without a hit, with Bryce Marsh getting the run home with a sac fly.
Rowan tied it in the second against Painter when Barringer’s groundout scored Trevor Atwood.
Rowan’s four-run third would prove decisive. Rowan bunched five singles in that inning. Hits by Bryson Wagner and Hayden Setzer set the table, along with Clayton Gilmore’s walk. Chandler Lippard pulled a single to left for a 2-1 lead. Atwood drew a walk for 3-1. Wayne Mize lifted a sacrifice fly for 4-1, and John Owen produced a two-out hit for a 5-1 edge. That was all the cushion Holshouser needed.
“He was in some jams, they had some baserunners, but Maddux was tough,” Gantt said. “When his curveball is as good as it was tonight, it makes his fastball better. He threw the fastball by a few guys who were looking for the curve.”
Randolph’s chance to make it exciting was in the fifth when Holshouser had an adventure finding the strike zone. After his second walk of the inning, and with Painter, who had crushed two homers in Game 4, striding to the plate, Holshouser received a mound visit from pitching coach Russ Weiker.
Holshouser started Painter out with breaking balls, then got a fastball by him for a huge strikeout. After a walk to Bryce Marsh filled the bases, Holshouser fanned Trevor Marsh swinging on a 3-and-2 pitch. A walk or a hit on that pitch could have turned the tide, might have changed Rowan’s destiny.
“I struck him out on a low fastball,”said Holshouser, who is headed to UNC Greensboro. “That was a pretty hairy inning, so that strikeout got me pumped up. I went running off the mound.”
That was Holshouser’s 97th — and last — pitch.
The pitch-count rule drama occurred as the bottom of the sixth got under way. After Durham was ousted from the game, Sell entered. He’d been warming up along with Durham, so he was loose, and he did fine. He needed 42 pitches to weave his way through the final two innings, but he struck out three and allowed only one hit. He was never in serious danger.
Rowan had one of its better defensive nights, with Lippard racing up the soggy, right-field bank to grab a foul pop and infielders Gilmore and Wagner moving their feet and fielding sharp groundballs. Center fielder C.P. Pyle, who had two hits, came charging in to snare an inning-ending liner in the third.
Rowan had 12 hits, all singles, with Setzer accounting for three out of the lead-off spot. Atwood went 2-for-3, plus the bases-loaded walk. Owen, Pyle and Wagner, the bottom three in the order, combined for five hits, two walks and a sac bunt.
It was a weird night for one of Rowan’s best efforts of the season, but it happened.
“This one was mostly Maddux,” Gantt said. “He didn’t give them a chance to hit a lot of balls hard.”
NOTES: Rowan joins High Point, Wilmington, Whiteville, Pitt County, Garner, Caldwell County and Shelby in a stellar state tournament field that includes no Cinderellas. All are perennial powers. … State tourney games will be played at Finch Field, UNC Greensboro and High Point University. … Pinch-hitter Braxton Davis got Randolph’s second hit of the night against Sell.
Rowan 014 000 3 — 8 12 1
Randolph 100 000 0 — 1 2 0
W — Holshouser (4-3). L — Painter.
HR — None.
Leading hitters — Rowan: Setzer 3-for-5, 2 RBIs; Awood 2-for-3, RBI; Owen 2-for-3, RBI; Pyle 2-for-3.