American Legion baseball: Crunch time for Rowan County

Published 4:49 am Wednesday, July 12, 2023


By Mike London

SALISBURY — Kannapolis has a good American Legion baseball team.

Kannapolis is 17-5 and has lost four times to Rowan County. That means Kannapolis is 17-1 against everyone else this summer.

“We haven’t been able to beat Rowan and in three of the four games we played them, I thought we played pretty good,” Kannapolis coach Joe Hubbard said.

The Kannapolis-Rowan scores were 18-2, 10-2, 6-0 and 9-1. That’s 43 to 5.

So if Kannapolis is good, what does that make Rowan?

Well, Rowan is very good. That’s obvious from the standings (33-3), from NC Preps’ state rankings (Rowan is No, 1) and from a stat sheet that reveals  three .400 hitters.

Rowan might be deep enough this time to win everything there is to win in American Legion ball, but first Rowan has to get past Randolph County.

That’s not going to be easy.

Rowan is 1-2 this summer against Randolph Post 45, a perennial nemesis and the one Area III program that is not at all awed by the sight of those Rowan jerseys and those Rowan crowds.

The best-of-five Area II semifinal series that starts on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Newman Park will be make-or-break for Rowan.

If Rowan loses the series, the season is over, just like that.

If Rowan survives this series, it’s in the state tournament, regardless of what happens in the Area III championship game.

Randolph (21-3) is in an enviable position, the same one that it’s in every summer. Randolph is a regional host, so the Area III playoffs and even the state tournament are not life-and-death propositions for Randolph.

Randolph could lose to Rowan and get knocked out of the Area III playoffs and state title contention — and still bounce back to win the regional and even the World Series. Randolph won regional titles in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and it always holds its own when it gets to the World Series.

So there’s somewhat less pressure on Randolph than there is on Rowan County.

Still, it’s a mistake to believe that Rowan will have far greater incentive to win this semifinal series. When you’re as good as Randolph has been, the Area III championship is always a goal, winning the state championship is always a goal and beating Rowan County is always a goal.

Nine out of 10 people believe Rowan and Randolph are the two best teams in Area III, but they are meeting in the semifinals because Randolph lost twice to High Point in Northern Division of Area III games and finished runner-up.

High Point (14-3) is good, but Randolph’s losses to High Point — 8-5 and 6-3, both in late June — were unexpected.

Randolph has been through some stuff this summer, including renovations of its home field at McCrary Park and a strep throat epidemic, but McCrary Park is ready now (for Game 2 with Rowan on Friday) and the players are healthy.

Randolph has solid pitching and solid hitting. Randolph scores about eight runs per game, while allowing three per game.

Randolph has serious sluggers in Braylen Hayes and Tanner Marsh. They hit the long ball. Marsh homered in both games of Randolph’s first-round series sweep of Davidson County.

Rowan didn’t have a first-round series tuneup since Foothills forfeited.

Rowan has an unusually deep pitching staff, with a long train of guys who can throw strikes and provide innings, but the only dominant hurler has been Hayden Simmerson. Simmerson (5-0) has 48 strikeouts and an ERA under 1.00.

No one else on the roster has more than 20 strikeouts. In other words, Rowan really needs to win Simmerson’s start against Randolph. It’s possible he could start Game 1 and Game 5, if there is a Game 5.

Morgan Padgett, Corbin Bailey, Drew Burton, Mikey Beasley, Alex Hagler and Emory Taylor all have at least three wins and nice ERAs.

Rowan’s team ERA is right at 2.00, which is super, but Rowan normally doesn’t face loaded lineups like Randolph’s.

Rowan’s team batting average is north of .360, which is also super, but there have been quite a few run-rule blowouts of lesser teams that have boosted those numbers. Randolph’s pitching will be quite a bit better than most of the arms Rowan has faced this summer.

Rowan shortstop and lead-off batter JT Taylor is an Area III Player of the Year candidate.

He’s been special in what will be his only Legion season. He has nine homers, 12 doubles, 11 steals, 47 runs, 47 RBIs and a 442 batting average. He leads the team in almost every offensive category. He doesn’t lead in hits because he’s been walked a team-leading 37 times.

No. 3 hitter Lucas Graham, who plays third base and has a team-high 48 hits, and cleanup man/first baseman Padgett also are batting over .400.

Right fielder Blake Hill, left fielder Simmerson and DH Aiden Schenck have extra-base power and have combined for 80 RBIs.

Rounding out the standard lineup are get-on-base guys — second baseman Cole Johnson, center fielder Elijah Palmer and rotating catchers Matthew Connolly and Cameron Burleyson.

When Simmerson pitches, Schenck probably will play left field. When Padgett pitches, Schenck or Simmerson can play first base.

WSAT will broadcast all the games if you can’t get out to the park.


The Kannapolis-High Point semifinal series also may be a good one and will put one of them in the state tournament.

It starts on Thursday at Finch Field, with the teams scheduled to play Game 1 at Northwest Cabarrus at 7 p.m.

High Point has home-field advantage for the series, but has a field conflict Thursday. High Point will host the second and third games in the series. Game 2 will be played at Finch Field on Friday at 8 p.m. Game 3 will be played at 5 p.m.on Saturday.

Game 4, if needed, would be hosted by Kannapolis. Game 5 would be hosted by High Point.

• The Area III championship game — it’s just one game for state tournament seeding and a trophy — is on July 20.

• The state tournament will be hosted by Fuquay-Varina at Campbell University on July 25-29.

• The Southeast Regional will be at Randolph’s McCrary Park on Aug. 2-6.

*  The World Series will be held in Shelby and is scheduled for Aug. 10-15.