American Legion baseball: Blevins leads Rowan to state tournament win
Published 10:29 pm Wednesday, July 27, 2022
BUIES CREEK — Rowan County’s American Legion baseball team got off the mat and won a big one in the state tournament.
After kicking away numerous scoring chances in Tuesday’s 11-inning loss to Pitt County, Rowan capitalized on just about every opportunity it had on Wednesday.
Rowan managed to score five runs with only four hits — all singles — and edged Wilmington 5-4 at Campbell University’s Jim Perry Stadium.
Queen City’s 10-7 win against Pitt County on Wednesday made things crystal clear in the Stripes Pool where Rowan, Queen City, Wilmington and Pitt County are all 1-1 after two days.
No tiebreakers will be needed in the Stripes Pool. Rowan (36-8) plays Queen City (22-8) today at 4:30 p.m., while Wilmington (19-9) is matched up with Pitt County (21-7).
The winners of those games will advance to Thursday’s semifinals. The losers will call it a season.
Rowan’s latest victory was keyed by pitcher Jake Blevins, a right-handed Pfeiffer recruit, who got better as the game went on.
Blevins, who struck out seven, topped out at 81 mph on the scoreboard radar and kept Wilmington hitters off-balance. He was really good in the fifth, sixth and seventh.
He got some welcome assistance from Wilmington’s accidents on the base paths — two runners were out on steal attempts and another was picked off first base.
It did not look like Blevins (9-1) would survive the fourth inning. That inning began with two line-drive outs before Wilmington Post 10 strung together four straight hits, some of them scorched, and took a 4-3 lead.
But Blevins settled down. He got the third out with a strikeout. He gave Rowan a chance to come back — and Rowan did.
Rowan scored three runs in the bottom of the second. Walks to Casey Gouge and Luke Graham and McCall Henderson’s single loaded the bases with one out. Cameron Burleyson’s first at-bat of the tournament was big. His run-scoring single gave Rowan a 1-0 lead.
Burleyson splits catching duties with Matthew Connolly, and they have both had their moments this summer. They’ve combined for 32 RBIs, with Burleyson accounting for 18 of those 32.
Zach McNeely and Cole Johnson followed with bases-loaded walks, and Rowan led 3-0. Jackson Deal rapped into a double play to end the inning.
Wilmington got one run back in the third, then took that 4-3 lead in that long top of the fourth when Blevins appeared to be wilting in the heat.
Rowan’s fourth was important. With two outs, McNeely, the No. 9 hitter, worked another walk, He got to second on a wild pitch and scored on a base hit by Johnson for a 4-all tie.
Rowan’s decisive fifth run was a pretty one. Deal walked and stole second. Aiden Schenck hasn’t had a hit in the tournament yet, but he moved Deal to third with a right-side groundout.
With the infield in, Blake Hill got Deal home, lifting the sacrifice fly that gave Rowan a 5-4 lead.
Blevins made that narrow lead stand up.
Rowan continued one nice streak. This is Rowan’s 13th trip to the state tournament in the single-site format that was adopted in 2000. Rowan has won at least one game in all 13 appearances.
NOTES: Rowan has relied heavily on two starting pitchers all season. Blevins and Gouge won’t be able to pitch again in the tournament, so Rowan is expected to call on a combination of hurlers today. … Johnson’s two RBIs on Wednesday gave him 22, mostly out of the lead-off spot. … Queen City third baseman Tyler Roakes has Rowan connections. He’s a grandson of lifelong Salisbury resident Sandra Roakes and the late Charlie Roakes Jr. and great-grandson of the late Charlie Sr. and Louis Roakes, of Roakes Grocery fame. Tyler’s father, Tripp Roakes, grew up in Salisbury watching the late 1970s Rowan Legion teams, before moving away for high school. Tyler Roakes is a Carmel Christian School graduate and was second-team All-State. He’ll head to Berry College in Rome, Ga., to play on the baseball team in a few weeks. Quite a few members of the Roakes family are Catawba graduates. Two serve on boards at Catawba. “Rowan Legion and Catawba College were a huge part of our lives for 75 years or more,” Tripp Roakes said. “My mom lives at Corbin Hills Country Club and my brother lives in China Grove. We are Salisbury through and through.”
Wilmington 001 300 0 — 4 8 0
Rowan 030 110 x — 5 4 1