American Legion baseball: Simmerson’s slam makes Rowan Area III champs

Published 9:58 pm Thursday, July 20, 2023

Staff report

SALISBURY — Hayden Simmerson’s grand slam headed over the left-field wall at Newman Park and sent Rowan County American Legion baseball fans into a walk-off frenzy.

Simmerson’s mighty blow  brought an end to Thursday night’s one-game Area III championship series and gave Rowan a 6-5 victory in a game that Northern Division champion High Point (17-4) led from the third inning right up to the final pitch.

Both teams wanted to win, but it wasn’t a must-win for either. Both teams already had punched their tickets for the state tournament that will began at Campbell University on July 25. At stake were the Area III championship trophy, bragging rights and the top seed from Area III for the state tournament. Rowan will take on Wayne County in a 4:30 p.m. game on July 25.

Rowan (37-5) got five pitchers some work, with Mikey Beasley, Alex Hagler, Joe Burleyson, Morgan Padgett and winner Luke Graham taking the mound.

Hagler and Burleyson bounced back from some struggles in the Randolph County series.

Beasley pitched into the fourth inning. Devin Villaman hit a solo homer off him in the third, and High Point Post 87 maintained a 1-0 lead through the fifth.

Coached by former Catawba College slugger Luke Spiva, High Point put together a four-run inning against Padgett in the top of the sixth to go up 5-0.

Graham had three hits for Rowan County, but the home team didn’t get on the scoreboard until Aiden Schenck hit his sixth homer of the summer leading off the bottom of the sixth to make it 5-1.

Graham pitched the top of the seventh. He walked one, but Rowan’s infield turned a double play to end the inning.

In the bottom of the seventh, Rowan put together a string of tough at-bats.

With two strikes on him, JT Taylor walked. Blake Hill, back in the lineup after being hit in the elbow in the Randolph series, singled to right.

High Point finally got Graham out, but his fly ball to right did enable Taylor to move to third.

Padgett singled to right to score Taylor and move Hill to second, and it was 5-2.

Schenck worked a walk — he also had two strikes on him — to load the bases for Simmerson.

After a pitching change, Simmerson drove an 0-and-1 pitch deep into the night to end it.

Rowan fans began rising to their feet as soon as the ball left the two-way standout’s bat, and a joyful Simmerson practically sprinted around the bases. He was mobbed by his teammates as he stomped on home plate with the winning run.