Legion baseball: Rowan snaps losing skid with sixth-inning outburst
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Rowan County’s final game of the regular season was a wild one.
Rowan spent five innings dangling off a steep cliff by a fingernail, but then the home team put together a seven-run sixth inning to beat Stanly County 9-2 on Sunday night in front of a large, raucous crowd at Newman Park.
“We were fortunate,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “I hope that’s the win that we needed to get us going.”
Rowan ended a rare, three-game losing skid while stopping Stanly’s four-game winning streak.
Rowan (20-10, 5-5) probably is going to finish fourth in the six-team Southern Division of Area III. Stanly (17-5, 5-3) can still take the division, but Rowan swept Stanly in the home-and-home league games. That’s how crazy American Legion baseball is.
Rowan won’t play again until the Area III playoffs commence on Friday, July 5. Stanly still has two crucial division games left to play tonight (Monday) and Tuesday against Concord.
There were two pivotal at-bats in Sunday’s game.
In the top of the sixth with the score tied 2-all, Rowan’s sidearming reliever Scout Nichols faced Stanly’s Cody Kidd with the bases loaded and two men out. Kidd lashed a pitch moving away from him hard to right field, but Rowan right fielder Luke Barringer got a good jump on the ball and made a running catch as he approached the right-field line.
“Our outfield coach Lee Poteat had just waved me over toward the line,” Barringer said. “If I don’t take those two steps toward the line, that’s a play where I’m probably going to have to lay out and try to catch the ball with a dive.”
The other critical at-bat came after Rowan put the first two men on base in the bottom of the sixth. Chandler Lippard led off the inning by drawing a walk from Kidd. CP Pyle ran for Lippard, and Daniel Durham, a lefty hitter, drilled a single through the right side to move Pyle to second. Colby Lamm came out of the Stanly bullpen to relieve Kidd. Jordan Goodine was the next hitter. It was an obvious bunting situation, but Gantt loathes giving up an out with a bunt, especially at Newman Park, and Goodine, more of a slugger than a little-ball guy, doesn’t bunt often.
“We thought about sending Daniel Sell, who is a very good bunter, up to bat for Goodine and having him sacrifice,” Gantt said. “But we decided against it. The biggest factor was Goodine was due. You can’t keep hitting the ball right at people forever, and that’s what he’s been doing.”
Goodine had conversations with several coaches, as Lamm threw his warmup pitches.
“What Coach Gantt told me was that he probably should ask me to bunt, but he would rather see me hit a ball in the right-center gap,” Goodine said. “That’s what I tried to do. I fouled off a bunch of pitches, probably five pitches, and then I finally put it in play. I saw the second baseman bobble the ball, and I knew I had a chance to get on base.”
Goodine ripped one of the hardest-hit balls all night, a wicked smash that was on Stanly’s slick second baseman Will Dagenhart in an instant. Dagenhart did well to knock it down, but he couldn’t grab the ball cleanly, and Goodine was motoring hard down the line. Dagenhart’s rushed throw probably wouldn’t have gotten Goodine anyway, but when it sailed wide, all heck broke loose. Pyle scored, Durham was at third, Goodine was at second, and Rowan led 3-2.
Next, Rowan did bunt, a surprise one by Bryson Wagner. Stanly got the out at first, but Durham rumbled to the plate unchallenged. Rowan led 4-2.
That run relaxed everyone. Then everything went Rowan’s way. It was an outburst. Steven Smith singled. Cole Hales singled. Wayne Mize and Barringer banged balls to the walls, and suddenly, it was 9-2.
“We’d played good the whole game, but it was still tight,” Barringer said. “We weren’t nervous, but we were anxious. Then in the sixth, everyone had a good at-bat. We got rolling the way that we can.”
Rowan starting pitcher Deacon Wike got no decision, but he pitched an amazing game.
“The first inning, it was raining hard, but I still came out strong and was missing barrels,” said Wike, who enjoyed a 1-2-3 first. “But then the rain stopped, and I started missing spots, and when you miss spots against Stanly’s lineup those are hard-hit balls. That lineup is nothing but tough outs. They’re one of the best teams we’ve played.”
Rowan had staked Wike to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first with Mize, Barringer and Lippard producing consecutive hits with two men out.
Stanly got a run back against Wike in the second on Colton Austin’s RBU double. Wike got a scary third out in that inning with the bases loaded on a long fly ball to Barringer in right.
Stanly put runners at second and third in the third inning, but again Wike pitched out of it. It was still 2-1.
The Stanly fourth began with a single and a walk, but with the aid of two of his five strikeouts, Wike escaped again.
Stanly finally tied it against Wike in the fifth on Trent Wilson’s RBI single. Barringer helped limit the damage with a remarkable diving catch sliding toward right-center. Stanly argued the play, but Barringer confirmed after the game that he did make the grab.
“My job wasn’t to pitch a shutout or even to win the game,” Wike said. “My goal was to give us a chance, and I was able to do that. It’s a game we really needed.”
Stanly would leave 11 on base.
Heading to the sixth, Stanly had produced many more scoring threats than Rowan. Nichols started the sixth on the mound for Rowan and was immediately in trouble. Hunter Sells hit a half-swing roller toward third and beat the throw to first by a step. No. 9 hitter Blake Parker bunted. The ball plopped down perfectly for him up the first-base line, and Stanly again had two on and no outs.
“We’ve been snake-bit lately, and it looked like it might happen again,” Gantt said. “Lippard hit a ball off the wall in the first inning that I thought was out of here for a homer, but instead it’s a single. And then their bunt in the sixth rolls right on the edge of the grass line and stays fair.”
The next hitter Nichols faced was Lukas Scott, Stanly’s lead-off man. He’s Stanly’s catalyst, but Nichols got him out on a called strike three.
“It was a four-seam fastball, up in the strike zone,” Nichols said. “I was hoping he would swing under it, but he took it. It was a borderline strike. (Catcher) Bo Rusher did a great job framing that pitch, and we got the call.”
That was out one. Nichols also took care of the second out. Dagenhart slapped a bouncer toward the box. Nichols left his feet for it, gloved it, and then underhanded the ball to Durham at first base.
“I just had to make sure I stayed calm and gave Daniel a good throw,” Nichols said.
After an intentional walk to No. 3 hitter Carson Lowder set up a force at every base, Nichols faced Kidd. That’s when Kidd socked one hard in the air to right, but Barringer, sprinting toward the line got there in time.
“I was worried about that ball tailing away from Luke, but when I saw it was staying true, I knew Luke would get there,” Nichols said. “All I wanted to do was keep the game even, to give us a chance, but getting them out there with the bases loaded gave us momentum. We’ve got a lot of guys who can swing the bats. Then we came in and had that big inning.”
For the top of the seventh, even with a 9-2 lead, Gantt didn’t take anything for granted. He sent Hales to the mound, and he went right after the hitters. When three straight went down on strikes, Rowan’s frustrating losing streak was history.
“I think this was big,” Barringer said. “It feels good. We didn’t just win, we beat a really good team.”
NOTES: Lippard (hamstring) started at DH for the first time since May 31. His first-inning RBI was the 88th of his Rowan Legion career. Gantt believes he could be ready to handle first base duties (when Daniel Durham pitches) in the playoffs. … Rowan also had positive news on injured shortstop Zeb Burns (hand), who is on track to be ready for the playoffs.
Stanly 010 010 o — 2 10 2
Rowan 200 007 x — 9 12 1
W — Nichols (3-1), L — Kidd.
HR — None.
Leading hitters — Stanly: Austin 2-for-4, RBI; Wilson 2-for-4, RBI. Rowan: Hales 2-for-3; Mize 2-for-3, 2 RBIs; Barringer 2-for-4, 3 RBIs; D. Durham 2-for-4.
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