East Rowan claims 9th straight victory with 6-0 romp over Central Cabarrus

Published 12:03 am Saturday, March 26, 2022

By David Shaw

GRANITE QUARRY — East Rowan’s sixth-ranked baseball team kept its foot on the gas pedal Friday night.

The unbeaten Mustangs rode Chance Mako’s electric right arm to a 6-0 SPC win over visiting Central Cabarrus, extending their season-launching victory binge to nine games.

“We’re not worried about the (state) rankings,” said East coach Brett Hatley, moments after the Mustangs posted their fourth shutout this month. “Every night we know we’ve got to come out and play our best ball. We’re in a tough league and every game, you can get beat.”

Mako — the 6-foot-6 junior with three very effective pitches — prevailed for the third time and helped East improve to 4-0 in conference play. Braiding a macho fastball with a sweeping curve and a swing-and-a-miss slider, he struck out nine and scattered three singles in 5 1/3 innings.  Aside from a couple of inaccurate pickoff attempts at first base and a bit of a rocky start, Mako was in command for 101 deliveries.

“Obviously Mako was very good,” losing coach Ronnie Bost said after Central (4-4, 0-4) advanced only one runner to third base — a courtesy runner for pitcher Alex Darbutt in the top of the fourth, who was promptly erased. “He had a little bit of command issue early, trouble finding the zone. But once he honed in he threw strikes and kept our guys off-balance. He’s a competitor who adjusted and competed. I tell our guys all the time, ‘You’ve got two opportunities to get to a good arm — one is early and one is if they tire.’ And he did not tire.”

The Vikings squandered a first-inning chance when Mako hit leadoff batter Ritchie Hunter in the helmet and walked No. 2 batter Aiden Kwon. A mound visit from pitching coach Ethan Free and East catcher Tristan Miller settled the lanky right-hander, who retired 10 of the next 11 Central batsmen.

“It was just a shaky start,” was how Miller told the tale. “Sometimes it takes Chance a while to get dialed in. Me and Coach Free went out there and said, ‘What’s going on?’ He said, ‘I’m good. Just give me a second. I just need to find my pitches.”

“He had to take a deep breath and gather his thoughts,” Hatley added. “He was still in control of the game.”

East cracked the code against Darbutt, a junior right-hander who yielded six runs (four earned) in five innings, in the home second. The Mustangs opened the scoring when Austin Fulk walked and eventually crossed the plate on Miller’s one-out bunt single to the right side. “In the moment (Hatley) gave me the sacrifice sign,” he said. “But I knew I could drop one down the first-base line and beat it out.”

A second run scored on a wild pitch, giving Mako a two-run cushion after three innings. East added three runs after two men were retired in the last of the fourth. The clutch hit was Cobb Hightower’s two-run, ground-ball single into left-center field that drove home Aiden Schenck and Miller. Moments later, DH Logan Dyer stole home to make it 5-0. East’s final run came on Morgan Padgett’s blistering home run in the fifth.

“This is a good team,” said Hightower, the 10th-grade shortstop who steered a 2-2 curveball through Central’s infield. “We have a lot of good pieces and a lot of good arms.”

None was better than Mako’s. And while he walked five batters and retired the side in order just once, he worked with guile, composure and attitude. Perhaps his best pitch defused a Central rally in the top of the fifth. With two runners aboard and two away, he snuck a 3-2 slider past cleanup hitter Garrison Bullock for a called third strike.

“The slider is actually my go-to pitch with two strikes on a batter,” Mako revealed. “(Bullock) did hit a fastball hard earlier in the count — drove it foul down the right-field line. That gave me an idea of how to get him out.”

Mako faltered in the sixth before reliever Nate Hayworth swept up the mess, retiring five of Central’s last six hitters.

“We’ve got to have some better at-bats in certain situations,” Hatley concluded after East collected only five hits. “But we won 6-0 so I’m happy.”

NOTES: East entered the game with a .345 team batting average. It was ranked first in the most recent state 3A-West poll. … Dyer, Miller and Hightower had stolen bases. Hightower leads the team with eight RBIs. … The Mustangs have allowed only one run in their last four games. … East visits Mooresville for a non-league game on Saturday, then hosts SPC rival Carson on Tuesday. Central plays a pair against West Rowan next week.


Central Cabarrus      000  000  0 — 0   3   2

East Rowan               020   310   x — 6   5   2

WP — Mako (3-0). LP — Darbutt (1-2). HR — M.Padgett (1).

Leading hitters — CC: Kwon 1-for-1; McIntire 1-for-3; Tucker 1-for-3. ER: Hightower 2-for-4, 2 RBIs, SB; M.Padgett 1-for-3, HR; Schenck 1-for-3; Miller 1-for-3, RBI, SB.