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Little League Softball: Rowan returns to World Series for 4th time in 5 years

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — Expectations are so through-the-roof for Rowan Little League’s 12U softball program that last season’s loss in the Southeast Regional championship game was a stunning disappointment.

But Rowan has its swagger back after rolling to a 9-1 victory in the regional championship game against West Virginia on Monday morning.

Next week, Rowan will head to the Little League World Series in Portland, Ore. The program has become a certified dynasty in softball circles. This will be the fourth trip to Oregon in five seasons.

“It never gets old to go, absolutely it doesn’t,” said Salisbury dentist Steve Yang, manager of the Rowan team. “Especially after what happened to us last year when we missed out on the World Series, winning this one was very satisfying for everyone.”

In 2018, Rowan lost in the championship game 4-3 to the girls from Tennessee’s Daniel Boone Little League. Rowan, which has five returners from that 2018 squad, faced Daniel Boone Little League in a tense rematch in Sunday afternoon’s winners bracket final. Whoever won was going to be able to use its ace in the championship game and was going to be in the driver’s seat for the regional title.

“We definitely considered the Tennessee game on Sunday to be for the regional championship, and that’s the way we approached it,” Yang said. “Being able to win that game (in extra innings) meant staying in the winner’s bracket and it meant we’d have our No. 1 pitcher, Campbell Schaen, ready for Monday’s championship game. West Virginia used their No. 1 pitcher to get past Tennessee and get to the championship game, but they had to use their No. 2 against us on Monday and she didn’t make it out of the first inning.”

Rowan (10-0) settled things quickly against West Virginia’s Barboursville Little League, with a wild, seven-run top of the first.

“They won the toss and elected to be the home team, but we looked at that as an opportunity to jump on them right away and set the tone,” Yang said. “That’s what happened. We’ve got some aggressive hitters, but they showed some patience and we gave a lot of take signs on 2-and-0 and 3-and-1 because their pitcher was having some trouble finding the plate.”

Rowan’s first four batters accepted bases on balls, with Cadence Lane’s walk forcing home the first run. Kennedi Fisher’s infield hit made it 2-0. After a couple of errors in the infield, the lead swelled to 5-0. In that first inning, Rowan applied pressure with its base-running and used two singles, five walks, two errors and one HBP to plate seven runs.

With Schaen, who threw all but one inning for Rowan in the tournament, in the circle, it was basically over after a half-inning.

Schaen pitched all six innings. She allowed three hits, struck out seven and walked two.

“She was the best pitcher down here,” Yang said. “We rode her all the way to Oregon.”

West Virginia brought in a relief pitcher, their No. 3 hurler, in the bottom of the first, and she was able to keep Rowan hitters off-balance with deception and off-speed stuff.

Rowan picked up a run in the third to make it 8-0 on singles by Kassidy Sechler and Lauren Vanderpool.

West Virginia scored a run in the fourth, but Rowan got it back in the fifth with Vanderpool and Riley Haggas producing base hits.

Vanderpool, like Schaen, is a rising eighth-grader at Mooresville Middle School. She was the catalyst for Rowan’s offense throughout the regional.

“She has power and speed and she’s scrappy and determined,” Yang said. “When she gets on base, she’s going to make things happen and she’s probably going to score. She has a chance to be a special player.”

Rowan Little League, with a lot of help from the girls in the Mooresville area, has managed to keep producing terrific players in this age group. Players age out, but replacements always seem to be there. Yang said this year’s group probably isn’t quite as talented as last year’s, but they were focused and they did what they needed to do.

“We had that team in 2015 that won the World Series, and I think that got a lot of things rolling for softball in this area,” Yang said. “Girls have grown up now admiring what those girls did in 2015. They watched the games on TV, they read about it, and now it’s their turn to be part of something really special. Rowan Little League softball is a brand now, and it’s an easy brand to sell. We have a lot of new faces joining our league. We’ve got several girls on this year’s team who are newcomers. They really helped us.”

The team will fly to Portland on Monday of next week. Opening ceremonies will be next Tuesday. Rowan’s first pool game is scheduled for Wednesday (7 p.m. Eastern time) against Louisiana, which knocked off Texas to win the Southwest Regional. Rowan finished runner-up in the World Series in 2016 and 2017, losing both times to Texas teams. The Tennessee team that beat Rowan placed fifth in the 2018 World Series.

Rowan’s five-team Pool B will include Louisiana, host Oregon, Canada and Italy, which romped to the championship in the Europe/Africa region. The A Pool includes Pennsylvania, Iowa, Latin America champ Mexico, Asia/Pacific champ Philippines and the Hawaii team that beat the California clubs to win the West Regional.

 Rowan         701   010      — 9   8   3

W. Virginia 000  100      — 1   3    4

W — Schaen. L — Gabby McAllister.

Leading hitters — Rowan: Vanderpool 2-for-2, 2 runs, RBI.

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