American Legion baseball: Season ends early for Rowan

Published 2:52 am Monday, July 8, 2024

Staff report

LEXINGTON — Rowan County’s American Legion baseball seasons normally occupy most of the summer for players, coaches and fans.

American Legion baseball began playing a single-site state tournament in 2000, and Rowan County has been part of that event (14 times) a lot more often than not (nine times, plus the COVID non-season of 2020).

But there will be Rowan-less state tournament this year for the 10th time. After a late start due to a rain delay of more than an hour, Davidson County held off Rowan 4-3 on Sunday at Holt-Moffitt Field, with bunts playing a featured role. Davidson County won a best-of-five series three games to one, bringing back murky memories of 2019.

In 2019, Rowan’s season ended unusually early — on July 12 — when Davidson County beat Rowan County three games to one in a best-of-five series. In the summer of 2019, Rowan’s demise came in the second round of the Area III playoffs. Davidson County beat a Rowan team that featured sluggers such as Luke Barringer and Bo Rusher.

Rowan (16-13) won the opening game in extra innings on Thursday, but didn’t do a lot of slugging in losing three straight over the weekend to a Davidson County team (20-12) that got more two-out hits and more two-strike hits. Rowan left 12 on base in a frustrating 9-6, eight-inning loss on Saturday. Rowan left the bases loaded in the third and sixth on Sunday and left the tying run on the third to end the game.

Davidson scored in the first inning of all four games and took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first with the aid of an error. Jake Smith’s two-out hit plated the run.

Rowan tied it in the third when Nate Hayworth’s infield hit scored Eli Graham.

Burton (3-2) was solid for four innings. Even in the fifth, when Davidson scored three decisive runs, it’s not like Post 8 was crushing the ball against him.

A dropped fly ball started the fifth. The next two batters laid down nice bunts, and while Rowan works diligently on bunt coverages, neither bunt resulted in an out, and Davidson had the bases loaded with no outs. Clean hits by Chris Shoemaker and Smith made it 3-1 and knocked out Burton. Hayworth replaced Burton on the bump. His first pitch got past catcher Matthew Connolly for what would prove to be a critical fourth run.

Rowan loaded the bases in the sixth against Davidson starter and winner Sam Beck on two walks and an infield hit by Brant Graham, but Beck got two strikeouts to end the threat.

Hayworth pitched well again — he was good on the mound all season — and kept the deficit at 4-1.

That deficit looked surmountable when the Rowan seventh began with solid hits by Logan Dyer and Connolly. Things looked even better when Hayworth greeted power reliever Dawson Shelton with another clean hit. Dyer scored, it was 4-2, and cleanup man Luke Graham headed to the plate with the tying runs at first and second.

The idea was for Graham to advance the runners with a bunt — that would remove the possibility of an inning-crushing double play and would move the tying runs into scoring position.

It didn’t work out. Graham popped up the bunt for an easy out.

When Elijah Palmer popped up in the infield for the second out, Rowan was in a desperate situation, but was able to pressure Davidson into a mistake. Rowan sliced the deficit to 4-3 when Connolly scored on an errant throw. Hayworth reached third base, and Rowan was 90 feet away from a tie game. A balk, a wild pitch, a passed ball, a lot of things could have happened to tie it, but Shelton stayed calm and got a strikeout that ended the game, the series and Rowan’s season.

Davidson advances to the Area III Championship Series against High Point Post 87. It should be quite a best-of-five series, especially with only the winner advancing to the state tournament in Cherryville.

Rowan was able to maintain a streak of non-losing American Legion seasons that dates back to 1989, but 16-13 (Rowan started 2-7 when it was very short-handed) was the lowest winning percentage since the 2012 team went 20-20.