American Legion baseball: Rowan rides Gouge to 1-0 win to start playoffs
Published 10:42 pm Tuesday, July 12, 2022
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Buddy Poole Night at Newman Park turned out to be memorable for more reasons than the retirement of the famed, fast-talking broadcaster.
The game was pretty special. Rowan County beat Mocksville 1-0 in an old-fashioned pitching duel to open a best-of-three, second-round series in the Area III American Legion baseball playoffs.
Rowan (29-7) didn’t scratch until the bottom of the seventh, but playing at home is always helpful. Rowan won its 14th in a row.
“I can’t say we’ve had a dead crowd all year because the fans here are always focused and into it,” Rowan southpaw Casey Gouge said. “But this was the biggest crowd we’ve had so far this summer. It was packed.”
Rowan fans were fortunate that Gouge (8-0) was sharp on the mound again.
He struck out nine, walked one, allowed five hits. He threw 86 pitches.
“I came to the ballpark with the mindset of just filling up the strike zone,” said the Catawba recruit. “I’ve made a few mechanical tweaks this summer, and feel good about where I am right now. I got ahead of hitters and got a lot of outs with only two or three pitches. The defense made the plays.”
Officially, Dan Loyd was the loser after two errors in the bottom of the seventh, but he pitched just as well as Gouge.
Loyd’s battles with Rowan County lead-off batter Cole Johnson were tense. They are high school teammates at North Iredell.
Mocksville, which tied for fourth in the Southern Division of Area III, was an upset winner in the first round of the playoffs, taking Games 2 (in extra innings) and Game 3 (on the road) to oust Foothills from the playoffs.
Mocksville (10-18) didn’t finish that first-round series until late Monday night, while Rowan had a first-round bye, so Post 174 wasn’t expected to have much left to challenge a Rowan County squad that was undefeated in divisional play during the regular season.
But baseball is baseball. You never know.
“Oh, I could tell in the first inning, the Mocksville guys were here to compete,” Gouge said. “Loyd pitched a great game for them. He was throwing three pitches for strikes and it looked like he had a really good sinker. The bottom was just falling out of it when it got to the plate. He had us hitting ground balls.”
Mocksville pieces together a team from a wide area. Catcher Ryan Thiel, a Mount Tabor product, threw out Johnson trying to steal second base to help Loyd in the bottom of the first.
Gouge held Mocksville to one hit through the first four innings, but he was in some trouble in the fifth and sixth.
In the fifth, Mocksville tried to score Jackson Sink from second base on a two-out single by Parker Simmons, but Rowan center fielder Jackson Deal easily threw him out. Rowan catcher Matt Connolly had the ball in plenty of time to make the tag.
“Jackson Deal is a great outfielder and he got to that ball in a hurry,” Gouge said. “I saw him come up throwing, and I was surprised they sent the runner, even with two outs. The runner was only about halfway down the third-base line and Matt when waiting for him with the ball.”
Mocksville came close to scoring again in the sixth, putting runners on the corners with two singles, but Gouge struck out Hunter Daywalt to end the threat.
“I executed on three good pitches on that at-bat,” Gouge said.
McCall Henderson had a two-out double for Rowan in the second inning. Aiden Schenk had a double to open the sixth.
But Loyd made the pitches he needed to strand the runners.
In the seventh, Gouge didn’t give Mocksville any reason to believe he was weakening. He struck out the side.
If the game had gone to extras, Gouge was ready for it, but he didn’t have to.
The bottom of the seventh began with Henderson’s infield hit. Mocksville failed to get an out on Luke Graham’s sacrifice bunt, and Rowan had two men on with no outs.
Connolly put a ball in play on the ground, and the second Mocksville error of the inning allowed Henderson to score the game’s only run.
Schenck and Henderson had two hits each. Blake Hill had the only other hit for Rowan County,
The teams will play at Rich Park on Wednesday night, with Jake Blevins expected to take the ball for Rowan.
If a third game is needed, it would be played at Newman Park on Thursday.
In other first-round games, Kannapolis got three RBIs from Ty Hubbard in a 10-3 win against Davidson County. Randolph County routed Mooresville 16-0. Stanly County won a 7-6 thriller at Eastern Randolph.
Mocksville 000 000 0 — 0 5 2
Rowan Co. 000 000 1 — 1 5 0
HR — None.
W — Gouge (8-0). L — Loyd.