A disappointing finish to West Rowan baseball season

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 16, 2023

By David Shaw

MOUNT ULLA — Every season has a story to tell — and this one is no exception.

It’s about the 2023 West Rowan baseball team, a group that was more Jeep than Jaguar, more Joplin than Jackie O. It’s a story that braids unexpected, season-long success with a disappointing finish. A story the Falcons weren’t ready to share last Friday night, but had to.

“That’s the one team I didn’t want to face in the playoffs,” longtime coach Seth Graham said after fourth-seeded West put its season to bed with a 13-5, second-round loss to visiting Oak Grove. “We ran into a hot team. If you want to win it all, you’ve got to be hot this time of year — and they’ve been hot.”

Indeed. The 13th-seeded Grizzlies from Winston-Salem have won 10 straight games since mid-March and will carry a 16-9 overall record into this week’s third round. They bashed 15 hits against West (19-7), including six for extra bases and three that disappeared into the towering trees beyond the outfield fence. And they silenced a team that split the SPC title, enjoyed its own nine-game winning streak and had prevailed in 15 of its previous 17.

“We played a lot of really good baseball this season,” senior catcher Matthew Connolly imparted. “It just ended earlier than we wanted it to. Not our night, I guess.”

It nearly was. The Falcons received a bases-clearing triple from infielder Zach McNeeley and took a 3-1 lead into the third inning, but that’s when the tires came spinning off. A six-run outburst — fueled by three West errors, five timely hits and a three-run homer by Virginia Tech recruit Kaden Hart — gave Oak Grove a lead it never relinquished.

“Yeah, they swung it well,” said crackerjack leadoff hitter Luke Graham, the coach’s nephew who contributed four singles and finished the season with a lusty .506 batting average. “But we hurt ourselves tonight. We hit two home runs all season and they hit three in one game. That’s not what we wanted.”

The story West hoped to tell has a different, more glorious conclusion.

“You always want to win,” said Coach Graham, the sagacious leader who extracted brilliance from a roster stacked with 13 underclassmen. “But this group surprised me. I don’t want to say they over-achieved, but they played better than we expected. You can see the emotion right here. They love one another and they played for each other — and that matters.  That’s the reason we were able to achieve what we did this year.”

It was that kind of bond that helped West win 10 of 11 games in April, when it turned a 4-4 start into a season worth celebrating. Connolly says the transition began just after Easter, when junior right-hander Corbin Bailey and his team-best 1.74 ERA pitched a three-hit shutout in a 1-0 conference victory against Carson.

“Right before that game is when we all came together,” explained Connolly, a .324 hitter and one of four West players headed to Surry Community College this fall. “We talked about how bad we wanted this. Something clicked that day. It was the day our emphasis changed from I to We.”

It was a change that mattered. That triumph in China Grove launched a three-week winning streak that propelled West to a No. 3 ranking in the state 3A poll and a share of the SPC championship with East Rowan. The Falcons fell 9-6 to their nearby rival in the conference tournament final before opening the playoffs with a tidy, 2-0 win against Franklin.

That set the scene for Friday’s reversal of fortune. With a rambunctious overflow crowd on hand, West fell behind and never recovered — earning a welcome-to-summer setback that illuminated an arm full of positives and a handful of negatives.

“There’s some very promising young talent here,” said Luke Graham, the team leader with 43 hits. “They just need to learn to trust and believe in each other. We have a lot of young players still competing for spots. They’ve got to learn that it’s all or none. We’re in this together.”

Then, with a confident smile, he added: “Falcons by a trillion. That’s a saying we have. It started in football and carried over to baseball. It means any day, any time, we’ll take our guys over anyone. It doesn’t matter that we lost. We’re still winners.”

Winners with a story they’ll be glad to tell.


Oak Grove        106  321   0 — 13   15   1

West Rowan    300  200  0 —  5     9   3

WP — Yarbrough (6-2). LP — B.Graham (4-1). HR — Hart (1), Dixon (4), Shelton (4).

Leading hitters — OG: Yarbrough 3-for-4, 3 runs, 2 RBI; Dixon 3-for-4, 3 runs, 2 RBI. WR — L.Graham 4-for-4; Blevins 2-for-4, double, 2 RBI; McNeeley 1-for-4, triple, 3 RBI.


See photo gallery from game here https://www.salisburypost.com/2023/05/15/photo-gallery-west-rowans-baseball-season-comes-to-an-end/