American Legion baseball: Rowan pulls one out in 13 innings

Published 12:37 am Friday, June 7, 2024

Staff report

CONCORD — In the league standings, the game meant nothing, but there’s a chance that Rowan County’s 13-inning road win against Kannapolis late Thursday night will mean a great deal before the summer is over.

It was a bonding experience, a confidence lifter for Rowan County players, as the game appeared to be lost several times.

But Rowan County, coached again by Seth Graham with Jim Gantt in Cary for the Division II World Series, didn’t fold, coming back from a 4-0 deficit to get to extra innings, then surviving some dire situations once things progressed into the “free baseball” portion of the night.

The final score was 6-4, elevating Rowan to a 3-7 record and dropping Kannapolis to 5-3.

Tyler Hill and Eli Graham (1-0) had terrific relief outings, making the Rowan staff look a lot deeper than it did when the game started.

Krys Hernandez delivered the game-winning hit in the 13th.

It was a strange Thursday night. Salisbury was pelted by storms, but the Northwest Cabarrus High field, about 25 minutes away, remained a playable venue and didn’t experience any lightning delays.

In the bottom of the 12th inning, Kannapolis had the bases loaded with no outs. Baseball math says that a team will score 86 percent of the time in that situation, but Kannapolis Post 115 didn’t score. Graham got a huge strikeout and an even huger double-play grounder, and the game continued.

Evan Koontz started on the mound for Rowan County. He had a rocky first inning, as Kannapolis came through with a pair of  two-out hits. Brooks Hubbard, son of head coach Joe Hubbard, singled for a 1-0 lead.

Then Jack Petersen produced a two-run single for the home team, and it was 3-0.

Kannapolis added a run in the third for a 4-0 lead, Kannapolis starter Willian Hollmeyer was throwing strikes, and Rowan was experiencing another one of those frustrating nights of leaving numerous runners on base. Rowan loaded the bases in the third, but couldn’t score.

Rowan finally got two runs in the fourth with the help of two errors. Drew Burton’s run-scoring double was the key to that inning.

Rowan slugger Matthew Connolly, who joined the team on Wednesday, is an aggressive baserunner for a catcher. He had 27 steals in 31 attempts at Surry Community College this spring. He has surprisingly good speed, but mostly he’s smart at reading pitchers. He can anticipate a breaking ball or change-up being delivered to the plate, and he gets a huge jump. When he got on base in the fifth, he stole second, stole third and charged home on a passed ball to cut Kannapolis’ lead to 4-3.

Burton singled, stole second and scored on a two-out hit by Logan Dyer in the sixth for a 4-all tie. Dyer has been hitting hard shots right at people since he joined the Legion team, but things usually even out in baseball. That blooper to right fell in for him at a critical time.

Great relief work by Hill, and then Graham, gave Rowan the opportunity to fight back.

Gage Trexler and Blake Gaffney provided some solid relief work for Kannapolis.

Kannapolis seemed on the verge of scoring several times in extra innings, but never did, and Rowan finally put together the decisive rally in the top of the 13th.

Facing Brett Morris, the fourth pitcher for Kannapolis, Joe Burleyson walked to start the inning. Burton was hit by a pitch. Hernandez scored Burleyson with a single to right. A strong throw home arrived ahead of Burleyson, but couldn’t be handled. Then Braden Shive hit a sacrifice fly for an insurance run.

Next, Graham, who pitched seven innings of amazing relief, got Post 115 out one more time.

The teams are scheduled to play again on Friday at Newman Park at 7 p.m.


NOTES: Connolly hit some missiles with home run distance, but they went foul.  … Coach Joe Hubbard also was in Cary on Thursday, as Ty Hubbard, the middle one of his three sons, is Catawba’s second baseman.