Little League softball: Rowan will have to take the long road to get to World Series

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 5, 2022

By Mike London

SALISBURY  — Rowan Little League didn’t supply the fireworks fans had hoped for on Sunday, losing to Pitt County, but the 12U softball team stayed alive by beating Lake Norman on Monday.

The season will continue for Rowan Little League in Georgia, and as long as you’re playing, you’ve got a chance.

As it bounces back from the damage of COVID, Little League Softball made sweeping changes for this summer.

In Rowan Little League’s marches to televised World titles in 2015 and 2019, fans got used to seeing five American regional winners — East, Southeast, Southwest, Central and West. They always joined a host team (Oregon) and four international entries representing Asia/Pacific, Latin America, Canada and Europe/Africa.

Now, with Little League Softball experiencing post-COVID growth, the U.S regionals have expanded from five to eight.

The East was divided into New England and Mid-Atlantic regions.

Little League shifted the World Series venue to Greenville, N.C., last summer. Since Oregon no longer hosts, Oregon teams now compete in the new Northwest Regional.

With Greenville serving as the host site again this summer, North Carolina received an automatic berth to the World Series, so the state tournament held at Salisbury Community Park from July 1-4 was the “North Carolina Regional.”

That regional provided a potential shortcut for Rowan Little League to get directly to the World Series — win two games and their bags were packed — but Pitt County (Greenville) didn’t cooperate. Pitt beat Rowan 8-0 in the winner’s bracket final.

Rowan managed to beat Pitt County 8-5 for the state championship when the programs squared off in Marion in 2021, but it didn’t go Rowan’s way this time. Rowan got two hits in the first inning, but couldn’t score. Pitt got on a roll, hit one out of the park, and sprinted into the World Series.

“Pitt County played the best game I’ve ever seen 12-year-old girls play,” Rowan Little League president Dan Wales said. “(Rowan assistant coach) Steve Yang has seen a lot of 12U teams from all over the world in the last eight years, and he agrees with me.”

The loss to Pitt County left Rowan playing Lake Norman in the losers bracket final on Monday morning and needing to rebound physically and emotionally.

Rowan had beaten Lake Norman 10-0 earlier in the tournament, but this time Lake Norman hung in there longer. Rowan led only 3-0 in the fifth, but then exploded to win 15-3. Reese Poole struck out seven and pitched a one-hitter. She also socked a two-run homer.

Poole, Leah Troutman and Myla McNeely had multiple hits in the game. They’re all returners from the 2021 state champs. Newcomer Cressley Patterson, a slugger, also had multiple hits.

The win over Lake Norman kept the season moving forward, but now Rowan has to take the long road to the World Series, rather than the quick one.

Rowan is preparing to travel to Warner Robins, Ga., for the Southeast Regional as the North Carolina representative.

Rowan will be joined in Warner Robins on July 23-27 by state champions from Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Florida.

Rowan’s opening game will be against West Virginia.

Warner Robins is a familiar venue for Rowan Little League, which used Southeast Regional titles in Warner Robins as the springboard to World Series titles in 2015 and 2019 and to World Series runner-up honors in 2016 and 2017. It’s always been competitive in the regional, but Rowan teams always have excelled. Rowan Little League has finished first or second in Warner Robins every year since 2015.

“Warner Robins has always been a big piece of the puzzle for our World Series runs,” Wales said. “We’re headed there again, and we’ll see what we can do. The regional is always a great experience for everyone.”

Rowan Little League was state champion in 2018 but finished second to Tennessee in Warner Robins.

COVID wiped out the 2020 Little League season.

In 2021, Rowan was runner-up in the Southeast Regional to Virginia, but with COVID eliminating all the international entries from the World Series, Rowan got to join Virginia in the World Series. Oklahoma won it. Virginia finished second.

Donnell Poole is the head coach of a 2022 Rowan team that won a pair of lopsided games to take Region 2 and advance to the state tournament.

In the six-team state tournament, Rowan enjoyed a first-round bye before getting those two wins against Lake Norman sandwiched around the loss to Pitt County.

The goal now is to win another regional and get back to the World Series.

The World Series will be played in Greenville on Aug. 9-15.