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Legion baseball: Concord sends Rowan to third straight loss

By David Shaw
sports@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Rowan’s American Legion baseball team entered Friday night’s game in bad shape — and left it even worse.

Visiting Concord used Larken Lancaster’s eighth-inning home run to down Rowan, 9-8, and hand the locals their third consecutive Southern Division loss.

“We were wondering earlier if a last-place team gets into the playoffs,” coach Jim Gantt said at Newman Park, moments after fourth-place Rowan (19-10, 4-5) squandered a six-run lead and lost for the fourth time in five games. “We’re still playing for a seed, unlike the last two years when we got first-round byes. This year, we’ll have to start right away and will be playing one of the top teams.”

Concord (9-9, 4-1) solidified its hold on first place by holding Rowan hitless over the last five innings. Rowan collected nine hits over the first three innings, including Bo Rusher’s two-out, two-run double to right field that provided a 5-2 lead in the last of the second.

“We got some clutch hits with two outs,” said losing pitcher Cole Hales, the last of five hurlers Gantt paraded to the mound. “But after that, I don’t know if we went into coast-mode or just took our foot off the gas.”

Rowan upped its lead to 8-2 in the third inning on J.T. Fecteau’s RBI-single, Daniel Sell’s bases-loaded walk and a run-scoring double play. But instead of landing a knock-out punch, Rowan seemingly backed off.

“I liked our approach after we got down,” said winning coach Jaymie Russ. “Early on, we felt like we were going to get something going. At some point, we were going to stop hitting it right at them.”

Momentum began to swing in the top of the fourth, when Concord scored five times against Rowan starter Corbin Durham and relief pitcher Michael Molenda. Jose Vargas shaved the deficit to 8-7 when he slashed a two-out, two-run single into center field.

“We just needed to string some hits together and start having better at-bats,” said Lancaster, a Cannon School graduate who will enroll at Wheaton College near Chicago in August.

“We had chances after that,” Gantt said. “We just would pop up or strike out looking. That indecisiveness — and pulling off the ball — that’s what got us. We lost our focus.”

Rowan stopped hitting in the fourth and fifth innings, when Post 51 right-hander Ray Beaver set it down in order. Facing Hales in the top of the sixth, Lancaster whipped a double to the wall in left-center and scored the tying run when Vargas paddled a two-out single up the middle.

“Ray Beaver was the bridge we needed to get to Nolan DeVos,” Russ said. “Once Nolan came in, he held everything together.”

Beaver pitched 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief and DeVos — a hard-throwing right-hander headed to Davidson — struck out four over the final 2 2/3 innings.

“DeVos is really good,” Gantt said. “He didn’t have to do much but throw fastballs. He located in and out, which good pitchers do. Beaver did a good job as well. A lot of first-pitch outs.”

Rowan threatened to break the tie in the last of the sixth. But with the bases loaded and two away, Luke Barringer flied out to center. With one down in the Concord eighth, Lancaster barbecued an 0-1 fastball from Hales and drove it high and over the wall down the left-field line.

“It was a fastball, low and inside,” he said, after belting his second home run of the season. “His first pitch was a curveball, but I wasn’t looking for something down in the zone. I just swung really hard and connected. I didn’t think about it that much.”

Hales, now 0-2 after an 11-1 high school season, was consoled by RC pitching coach Russ Welker. “He told me I made the right pitch, the one they called,” he said. “(Lancaster) just got a barrel on it.”

Rowan went down quietly in the bottom of the eighth, sending the crowd home disappointed.

“I don’t want to berate anybody or blame anybody,” Gantt concluded. “It was just a collective, lackluster effort. But they’re 16- and 18-year olds and they’ll bounce back.”

NOTES: DeVos, who was throwing in the mid-80s, retired eight of the nine batters he faced, including the last seven. … Rusher, Bryson Wagner and Jordan Goodine had doubles for Rowan. … RC closes its regular season with a home game against Stanly County on Sunday night. Concord plays five games in four days, beginning Saturday at home against Mooresville and a home/away double header with Kannapolis on Sunday. … Hales was presented the Patrick Snider Memorial Award and Barringer the Mark Norris Memorial Award in a pre-game ceremony.

Concord      020  501  01 — 9   11   1

Rowan        053  000  00 — 8   9   0

WP — DeVos (1-0). LP — Hales (0-2).

HR — Concord: Lancaster (2).

Leading hitters — Concord: Vargas 2-for-5, 3 RBIs; Lancaster 2-for-3, HR, double, 2 RBIs; Parker 2-for-4, RBI. Rowan: Hales 2-for-5, RBI; Barringer 2-for-4, 2 runs.

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