American Legion baseball: Rowan clinches playoff berth, eliminates Kannapolis

Published 1:20 pm Saturday, June 29, 2024



Staff report

CONCORD — Rowan County’s American Legion baseball season will extend into July.

Rowan survived Friday night’s thrilling game at the Northwest Cabarrus High field, winning 5-3 on a game that came down to the last pitch.

Rowan relief hurler Joe Burleyson made that pitch for his second save of the summer.

Burleyson was under pressure, but he calmly got a swinging strikeout on a 3-and-2 pitch with the bases loaded. Kannapolis had the tying run at second and the winning run at first when Burleyson got a pitch past Blake Gaffney, one of Kannapolis’ better hitters.

Rowan  (13-10, 5-2) clinched a playoff spot when Burleyson’s last pitch found catcher Matthew Connolly’s mitt, while simultaneously ending Kannapolis’ season.

Kannapolis had a winning season but fell to 4-5 in division games, losing two out of three to Rowan, so it will be Rowan and Mocksville advancing to the Area III playoffs.

About two-thirds of the Kannapolis team comes from South Rowan and Carson.

Drew Burton (3-1) gave Rowan a strong start on the mound. He took the game into the fifth inning. Burleyson relieved Burton with two outs in the fifth.

Logan Dyer drove in two runs for Rowan. No. 9 batter Eli Graham’s bunts were critical.

Rowan scored twice in the second inning against Kannapolis starting pitcher Daxton Savage, who was Carson’s ace during the high school season. Elijah Palmer’s double got the inning started. Burleyson walked. Eli Graham and Dyer got the runners home.

Burton sailed through the first three innings, maintaining that 2-0 lead, but Conner Coy, a rising senior at South Rowan, led off the fourth with his third homer of the summer.  .

Rowan went up 3-1 in the top of the fifth. Eli Graham’s bunt single started the inning. Dyer hit a hot grounder that was ruled an error, and Graham aggressively moved to third base on a close play, with Dyer taking second on the throw. With no outs, Rowan had a chance for a big inning, but only got one run. Kannapolis center fielder Brooks Hubbard, a recent South Rowan graduate, made a sliding catch that turned what would have been a hit for Connolly into a sacrifice fly.

Kannapolis got that run back in the bottom of the fifth on a walk to Wade Turner (Robinson) and a two-out double by Jack Petersen (West Cabarrus).

Savage was still hurling in the seventh. Burton had stayed in the game at third base and singled to start the top of the seventh. Graham’s sacrifice moved him to second.

Dyer then lashed a rocket up the middle that struck Savage in the hip area. The ball was hit so hard it ricocheted off the pitcher into the outfield. Burton scored to make it 4-2. Dyer made it to second. After an intentional walk to Connolly, Rowan’s biggest power threat, Nate Hayworth’s looping single loaded the bases.

Carter Rohletter, a rising senior at South Rowan, relieved Savage. Luke Graham’s sac fly made it 5-2, but Gaffney threw out Connolly trying to steal third to end the inning.

Now Burleyson had a three-run cushion, but it got wild in the bottom of the seventh, mostly due to walks.

Savage walked on an 11-pitch at-bat. Hubbard walked on a 3-and-2 pitch to load the bases. Coy walked after another long at-bat to force home a run and make it 5-3.

But then Burleyson got the final out.

The goal for Rowan now is to win the division. Rowan plays Mocksville (5-3) in Rich Park on Saturday night and hosts Concord on Sunday in the final two games of the regular season.

Mocksville lost 6-3 to Concord on Friday. Concord has been eliminated from the playoffs for a while, but is finishing strong.

In the Northern Division, Randolph County handed High Point its first division loss on Friday.  Randolph County and High Point still play two more times, so a lot can happen there.

Davidson County is in third place with three losses and stayed in the hunt for the playoffs on Friday by pounding Liberty.


South — Rowan 5-2, Mocksville 5-3, Kannapolis 4-5, Concord 2-6

North — High Point 5-1, Randolph 4-2, Davidson 3-3, Liberty 1-7