Little League softball 16U: Rowan wins over Virginia champs

Published 2:06 am Saturday, July 20, 2019

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Rowan Little League’s 7-1 win against the Virginia champions (Central Accomack) was more challenging than it sounds.

Brooke Piper walloped two homers in Rowan’s victory in its opening game of the 16U Southeast Regional  Tournament being held at Salisbury Community Park, but there were plenty of anxious moments. Rowan starting pitcher Kary Hales had to squirm out of bases-loaded, one out jams in the first and fourth innings. Hales made quality pitches in tough situations. Hales isn’t really a strikeout pitcher, but she ended both of those tense innings with critical whiffs.

“When they had the bases loaded in the first inning, I knew how important it was for us not to get down early,” said Hales, who fanned seven and walked one. “I was able to stay relaxed and make the pitches I needed to make, and the defense backed me up.”

In that first inning, Rowan center fielder Landry Stewart caught a fly ball  for the second out and fired a strong throw home to catcher Bentli Meadows to hold the runner at third.

In the bottom of the first, Rowan wasted no time taking the lead. Piper, Rowan’s first batter, whipped a rocket over the wall in left-center. It looked like a gapper when she stroked it, but it just kept going and going.

“It’s my sixth year of playing Little League softball, so I wasn’t nervous,” said Piper, a rising freshman at Mooresville High. “I wasn’t trying to hit a home run. I was just trying to hit it hard and get on base for the next person.”

Later in the first inning, EllenYang nearly hit one out. Her drive to the warning track in center glanced off the glove of center fielder Chloe Hall. Yang swiped third and Allie Burns’ sacrifice fly gave Rowan a 2-0 lead.

Hales faced only six batters in the second and third innings, with shortstop Ellie Wilhelm making the first of two stellar plays she made in the game.

“Kary is not as dominant a pitcher as Rowan Little League has had in the past, but she’s going to compete and she’s a winner and a leader,” Rowan manager Brandon Piper said. “She’s tough, and Ellie Wilhelm is tough. I read all the time about Carson winning in something, whether it’s softball, volleyball or basketball, and at least one of them is usually a big part of it. We didn’t have our regular shortstop for this game, but Ellie wasn’t worried. She has no fear. She said she had it — and she did. She made outstanding plays.”

In the bottom of the third, Rowan came up with two key, two-out hits. Cailynn Winford’s single and Meadows’ double drove in runs for a 4-0 Rowan cushion. Winford and Meadows are part of the Mooresville contingent that plays under the banner of Rowan Little League. This is very much a combined Rowan/Mooresville effort.

Hales appeared to be in serious trouble in the fourth when Virginia smacked three straight singles to fill the bases, but she knew where she was in the lineup — 8 and 9 — and she calmly struck out the next two to keep it 4-0.

“No pressure, I wasn’t stressed,” Hales said. “Even if they got a hit, we were still going to be up.”

After two straight strikeouts in the bottom of the fourth, it looked like Rowan might go down quietly, but then Piper socked her second homer to center field with Kendall Robinson, another Mooresville girl, on base.

“I was able to get a good swing and stay through the ball on both of the homers,” Piper said. “Just trying to help the team. Get on base and pass it on.”

Piper’s second blast knocked out Virginia’s starter. Then Hales hit a solo shot off a reliever to make it 7-0.

“They had brought in a slower pitcher,” Hales said. “I took a pitch to see what she had, and I was able to adjust. I fouled one off, and then I got a good pitch to hit.”

Burns caught a line drive to left in the top of the fifth.

Virginia got its first run in the top of the sixth, but Rowan cut another runner down at the plate with some alert defensive execution on a bunt.

Robinson pitched the seventh for Rowan and secured the last two outs on a diving stop by Wilhelm and a leaping catch by Piper at second base.

“We don’t have that dominant pitcher we’ve had on some of those Rowan Little League teams in the past, but we’re going to pitch to contact and count on our defense to make plays,” Coach Piper said. “We’ve got good girls. They listen and they learn from mistakes. They do what we need them to do.”

Coach Piper beamed with pride following the game. Not only because Rowan had turned in a good performance, but because his daughter, who just turned 14, had smashed two home runs in a 16U regional.

“We could put a competitive team of 14-year-olds out there, but it’s a blessing for us to have some experienced girls like Hales, Wilhelm and Yang,” Coach Piper said. “When Brooke was 9 or 10, those girls were her idols, and now she gets to share the same field with them. This has been the joy of her life.”

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NOTES: Coach Piper couldn’t say enough good things about Hales, a rising junior at Carson.  “There have been some days when she goes to work at 6:30 and still makes it out here for a 9 a.m. practice,” he said. “At 8:45,  you look up, and she’s here. She does the little things.” … Coach Piper’s assistants are Johnny Meadows, a familiar Mooresville coach who has taken clubs to the World Series, and Steve Yang, who guided Rowan’s 12U girls to the World Series crown in 2015 and a national runner-up finish in 2016.

Virginia   000  001   0   — 1   8   0

Rowan    202    300  x    — 7  10   0

W — Hales. L — Alana Shea.

HR — Rowan: Piper 2, Hales.

Leading hitters — Virginia: Haylie Justice 2-for-3; Jaelyn Killmon 2-for-3. Rowan: Piper 3-for-4, 3 RBIs; Hales 2-for-4, RBI.

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