East Rowan walks off against West Rowan, 2-1

Published 9:57 pm Wednesday, May 1, 2019

By David Shaw


MOUNT ULLA — East Rowan’s baseball team has bought its ticket and is taking the ride.

The Mustangs have reached through all the fog and drama that has surrounded the second half of their season and returned to the NPC Tournament championship game.

“We overcame some things and got it done,” interim coach Brett Hatley said Wednesday night, moments after East nipped West Rowan, 2-1 in eight innings, in the first semifinal at West. “We’re playing pretty good ball right now and finding ways to win. I like what our team’s been doing.”

East (16-9) earned its sixth straight victory and a berth in Friday night’s title game against top-seeded Carson, despite managing only five hits and without recording an RBI. Junior catcher Charlie Klingler scored the winning run on a throwing error with two away in the last of the eighth inning.

“Everything helps. Every little thing counted,” said Klingler, who raced home from second base on a fielder’s choice by teammate Avery Shull. “We had to make plays at the right time and somehow, put it all together at the end.”

The game was trumpeted as a marquee pitching matchup between four-game winners Jake Hunter of East and senior port-sider Daniel Durham of the Falcons (16-7). Both pitch exceptionally well but were rewarded with no-decisions. Hunter, the sophomore right-hander with the microscopic 0.29 ERA, allowed four hits and an unearned run in six innings. Durham threw seven frames, yielded one run and retired 11 of 12 East hitters — including eight in a row — during one stretch.

“He’s been good for us all year,” said West coach Seth Graham. “He proves you can be effective without a lot of velocity. He competes, bears down and makes big pitches.”

Second-seeded East reached Durham, who threw an array of off-speed pitches, for a run in the bottom of the first. Klingler served his first pitch of the game into the left-field corner for a leadoff double. Teammate Wayne Mize’s sharp single to left moved him to third base. With two men out, Mize was picked off off first but eluded a tag while Klingler alertly charged home.

“As a team, we know what we can and can’t do,” Klingler said. “It just so happened we played our cards right.”

Durham responded by striking out the side in order in the second inning and used an unusual 8-4-3 double play to escape damage in the fourth. East loaded the bases with two down in the sixth, only to be foiled when Blake White’s fly ball to deep center-field was caught by graceful outfielder Daniel Sell. Another DP saved Durham in the seventh, when pinch-hitter Cameron Padgett bunted into a twin killing initiated by West backstop J.T. Fecteau.

“Daniel Durham did an excellent job for them,” said Hatley. “At times, it was tough to execute against him.”

“He’s just tough and doesn’t give in to anybody,” added Fecteau. “He never gave up the whole game.”

Neither did Hunter. He delivered 103 pitches and finished with seven strikeouts and two walks. West scored its only run in the top of the fifth, when Cade Bernhardt reached on an error, advanced to second on Carsen Bailey’s sac bunt and trotted home when No. 9 hitter Jake Perez floated an RBI-single into right field.

“I wasn’t my sharpest,” Hunter said. “I just tried to keep them off-balance. They kept fouling balls off with two strikes, running up my pitch count. Durham’s the one who pitched a great game. I was just happy to be out there.”

Klingler disagreed. “Every time we put him (Hunter) on the mound, he’s going to show us his best stuff,” he said. “He’s the one thing we can count on, but this Hunter is a different type of special. He’s got some of the best stuff I’ve seen in a long time and the command to back it up.”

It remained 1-1 until the last of the eighth. Sell relieved Durham and yielded Klingler’s leadoff, Baltimore-chop single into right field. “The ball hit that lip right there in front of home plate and shot up really high,” said Graham. “We’ve got a broken sprinkler head. That’s why there’s a lip there. It hadn’t happened all year until last night, and now its happened two nights in a row.”

With Klingler aboard, winning pitcher Bryson Wagner laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt before Mize — who went 2-for-2 and reached base four times — was walked intentionally. That brought up Shull, who’s full-swing dribbler was fielded by Sell near the mound. He turned and threw a strike to shortstop Cameron Graham for a force-out, but Graham’s relay to first base skidded past Durham’s outstretched glove, allowing Klingler to score the winning run.

“I think we tried to force something that wasn’t there,” said Fecteau. “I think that’s the best way to put it.”

And with it, the Mustangs were back in the final.

“It’s been exciting,” said Hunter. “We’re back in the championship game. Maybe this year we can win it.”

NOTES: Defending tournament champion Carson (21-3) advanced with an 11-6 semifinal win against North Iredell. East split two regular-season games with the Cougars, winning 4-2, in 14 innings, on March 19 and falling, 9-2, three days later. … West, which had a three-game winning streak halted, will enter next week’s 3A state tournament as the No. 3 seed out of the NPC and will likely have to travel.

West Rowan        000  010  00 — 1   4   2

East Rowan         100  000  01 — 2   5   2

WP — Wagner (3-2). LP — Sell (1-1).

Leading hitters — West Rowan: Perez 1-for-3, RBI; Durham 1-for-4, double. East Rowan: Klingler 2-for-4, 2 RS; Mize 2-for-2, 2 walks; Warden 1-for-2, double.