American Legion baseball: Kannapolis holds off Rowan County

Published 6:07 pm Thursday, June 20, 2024

Staff report

SALISBURY — Rowan County’s offense had been gathering steam, but Kannapolis pitchers Zach Helms and Carter Rohletter applied the brakes.

Wednesday night’s result at Newman Park was a critical 3-2 loss for Rowan (8-9, 3-2), which is going to have to fight for a playoff berth.

Helms won it. Rohletter got five pressure-packed outs to save it. It was a humongous victory for Kannapolis (8-7, 3-3), which would have been in serious trouble if had lost on Wednesday.

Only two of the four teams in the Southern Division of Area III will participate in the playoffs. Mocksville is 3-1 in the division and is in great shape to make the postseason, as Mocksville is 1-0 against Rowan and has already finished its season series with Kannapolis, taking two out of three. Mocksville still has two important games with Rowan and three with last-place Concord.

Rowan and Kannapolis had now split two division games. Their third meeting in the division, June 28, at the Northwest Cabarrus High field, is likely to determine which program has a short summer.

Rowan had ace Logan Dyer (2-1) on the mound. He pitched well enough to win most games. It was still 0-0 after four innings.

But Kannapolis scored three runs in the top of the fifth with the aid of two Rowan errors.

Daniel Savage started the fifth with a double. Brett Morris singled to move Savage to third. Brooks Hubbard was able to put the ball in play, a bouncer to the right side that scored Savage. The two miscues followed, and Helms helped himself with a run-scoring single to make it 3-0.

Rowan finally scored in the sixth when Matthew Connolly launched a solo homer with one out. That was the first homer of the season for Connolly and for Rowan County.

After Connolly’s blast momentum changed and Nate Hayworth’s single and a walk to Luke Graham put the tying runs on base. Elijah Palmer, who leads Rowan in RBIs, smashed a double down the left-field line. Hayworth scored easily to cut the deficit to 3-2, and Rowan had runners at second and third with one out.

That’s when Rohletter, a finesse hurler who relies on breaking pitches, emerged from the Kannapolis bullpen with the game on the line. Helms had been relying mostly on heat, so it was a challenging adjustment for Rowan hitters. They stayed off-balance the rest of the night.

Kannapolis has not had much luck in late-game situations this summer — Post 115 let one slip away in the seventh at Mocksville on Tuesday — but this time every strategic decision worked out.

Kannapolis elected to pitch to Drew Burton rather than walking him and trying to set up a double play. Instead, the infield was brought in, looking to make a play at home.

Rohletter executed on the game’s biggest pitch, and Burton rapped a ground ball to first baseman Brett Morris, one of Rohletter’s South Rowan High teammates. Morris gloved the ball, made an accurate throw home and got the second out.

Brant Graham was next to the dish for Rowan. He drove the ball to the outfield, but the catch was made in right-center and Kannapolis still had a 3-2 lead.

Hayworth had relieved Dyer to start the Kannapolis sixth, with Dyer moving to shortstop. Hayworth hurled 1-2-3 innings in the sixth and seventh to keep Rowan’s deficit at 3-2.

But Rohletter got Rowan out in the bottom of the seventh. The game ended on a long drive by Dyer that Hubbard caught up to in center field.

The next four games for Rowan County will be weekend activity at Newman Park against teams from Maryland and West Virginia, with the first game set for Friday night.

Rowan’s next division game will be against Mocksville at Newman Park on June 25.

Kannapolis will host Concord in a division game on Saturday.