• 36°

Rowan Legion wins first round of playoffs

By David Shaw
sports@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — It looks like the red alert at Newman Park is over.

A late-season, three-game losing skid has spawned a two-game winning streak for Rowan County’s American Legion baseball team. The latest came Friday night, when Rowan scored nine times in the last of the fifth inning and opened the Area III playoffs with an abbreviated 13-3 victory over visiting Greensboro.

“It was a big game for everybody,” outfielder Jordan Goodine said after Rowan (21-10) prevailed in Game 1 of this best-of-three series. “We knew what we had to do. Earlier in the season, we needed 11 innings to beat this team.”

Not this time. Rowan overcame a first-inning deficit and rode Deacon Wike’s right arm to a stress-free triumph. The game ended when catcher Bo Rusher drilled a run-scoring single to deep right field with one away in the fifth.

“We just needed to play better and the other teams had something to say about it,” said winning coach Jim Gantt. “That’s baseball. If you don’t play good baseball and you play teams that can beat you, that’s what happens.”

Rowan appears to have done an about-face. It finished its Southern Division season with a win against Stanly County, then launched post-season play with a feel-good victory over mistake-prone Greensboro (6-13).

“It’s just one of those things,” said Post 53 coach David Sellers. “We missed a couple of fly balls that we should have caught. We turned singles into two-base errors.”

Greensboro committed three errors — two in the game’s final inning, when Rowan sent 12 batters to the plate and sent the crowd home early. Wike pitched a complete-game, struck out seven and won his fourth decision. He made at least one ill-advised pitch, a 3-1 fastball that Greensboro’s Cam Edmonds deposited well over the left-field wall for a three-run homer in the top of the first.

“The call was for a fastball outside and I threw it up and in,” said Wike, the tall right-hander who allowed only two singles over the final 4 2/3 innings. “It was one of those pitches that as soon as I threw it, I knew it was a mistake. I realized I didn’t have my best stuff, but I knew I had to keep us in it.”

Gantt called the home run simply “a bad pitch,” and added: “We were actually trying to pitch around (Edmonds), trying to throw it off the plate. We didn’t and the guy didn’t miss it. But Wike gave us a chance. They didn’t do anything after that.”

Wike pointed to an important in-game adjustment he made. “I needed to pitch more over-the-top,” he explained. “Our pitching coach (Russ Weiker) is always telling me to pitch like I’m 6-4, not 5-8.”

Instead of descending into a here-we-go-again malaise, Rowan began its recovery in the last of the first against losing pitcher Jonathan Todd, a lanky right-hander who retired nine straight batters between the first and fourth innings. Cole Hales reached on a leadoff error, took second on a wild pitch, third on a passed ball and scored when Wayne Mize bounced into a double play. It remained 3-1 until the Rowan fourth inning, when Mize triggered a three-run rally with a one-out single to left.

“We couldn’t start worrying in the first inning,” Gantt said. “We still had a chance to come back. You’d rather that happen early than late, because you can overcome that. And that’s what the guys did. It worked out for us.”

Mize advanced to second base on a single by Chandler Lippard, the veteran first-baseman who missed several weeks with a hamstring injury. Daniel Durham’s wicked, two-out double to the wall in right-center made it 3-2 and Rowan took its first lead when Goodine spanked a two-run single to left.

“Coach Gantt told me to try to poke it into the gap in right-center,” said Goodine, a .298 hitter who leads the team with 37 runs scored. “But I caught it off the end of the bat and pulled it into left. As soon as we took the lead, everyone was emotionally charged. We knew right then we had them.”

They knew for certain an inning later. Facing Todd and three relievers, Rowan cracked the game open with a slow, methodic knock-down. Steven Smith — who singled twice and scored two times in the inning — kicked off the rally with a base hit up the middle. He scored on a mishandled single by Hales.

Another run crossed when right-fielder Matt Stanley misjudged Mize’s line drive and the floodgates opened when Lippard’s high pop-up dropped into shallow right field for a run-scoring hit. There was only one man down when Rusher ended the match with a rocket against left-hander D.Jay Mobley.

“Now we’re more relaxed about (tonight’s) game,” said Goodine. “All we have to do is go there and do what we’re coached to do.”

• • •

NOTES: Saturday’s Game 2 is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Eastern Guilford High School in Gibsonville. Gantt said Durham (2-0, 3.86), a cagey southpaw, will start for Rowan. Sellers couldn’t say who will get the ball for Post 53. “We’re shorthanded by injuries,” he noted. “We’ll see who’s arm feel all right.” … Game 3, if necessary, will be played Sunday night at Newman Park.

Greensboro      300  00 — 3  5  3

Rowan              100  39 — 13  9  0

WP — Wike (4-1). LP — Todd (0-1).

HR — Greensboro: Edmonds (2).

Leading hitters — Greensboro: Edmonds 2-for-3, HR, 3 RBIs; Kolessar 2-for-3. Rowan: Lippard 2-for-3, RBI; Smith 2-for-3, RBI; Gooding 1-for-2, 2 RBIs.

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