Walk-off double stuns Rowan

Published 10:04 am Thursday, June 14, 2018

After Mocksville’s Legion baseball team scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh to stun visiting Rowan County, 11-10, on June 7, there was a sense of: “How did that just happen?”

Rowan swept four games from Mocksville in 2017 and had a 15-game winning streak in the series, including a 17-2 shellacking in the last meeting on June 29, 2017. Rowan was 74-17 against Mocksville since 1994.

Rowan was primed to beat Mocksville again as it held a 10-6 lead going into the bottom of the seventh. You had to see the five-run rally to believe it. You had to see Rowan’s third infield error of the night. You had to see a hit by pitch with two strikes. You had to see back-to-back bases-loaded walks. You had to see Nick Ward’s three-run, walk-off double.

“It was an exciting win,” coach Charles Kurfees said. “I think they got a little nervous when we started putting pressure on them. These guys keep fighting. They’re a good group. They play hard.”

It was Rowan’s second one-run loss in as many nights after a 9-0 start, including a 9-8 setback to defending state champion Randolph County. It slipped to 2-1 in the Southern Division. Mocksville, winners of three straight and five of six, improved to 8-4 overall and 2-0 in the division.

But it was Rowan that struck like a cobra in the top of the first. Chandler Lippard connected for a three-run homer during a four-run burst. In the second, Rowan knocked out starter Peyton Winebarger, scoring three runs on one hit and five walks and taking a 7-1 lead.

“We’ve got really good infielders and our pitchers were not using them,” Kurfees said. “You can’t defend walks. If we throw to contact, we’ve got good enough fielders to make plays.”

Mocksville got back in contention during a five-run second. Landon Bandy doubled to right-center. One out later, Drew Martin doubled to left. After Blake Winebarger singled and Ward walked, Carter Foster laced a two-run double over the left fielder as Rowan’s lead was reduced to 7-6.

But Rowan starter Olen Stamper, who is headed to Catawba Valley Community College, shut down Mocksville in the third, fourth and fifth. And the momentum swung back in Rowan’s favor in the fourth, when it scored three runs on two walks, a double, a single and a sac fly.

Things looked grim in the bottom of the seventh. But Rowan helped Mocksville’s cause and then Nick Ward happened.

Reliever Daniel Sell caught the first batter looking at strike three on a 3-2 pitch. Rowan should have had the second out on David Highman’s grounder, but the second baseman’s throw pulled the first baseman off the bag. Bandy’s bouncer deflected off the pitcher’s glove when it was headed to the shortstop, resulting in an infield hit. Sell had two strikes on pinch-hitter Maston Renegar, but his 1-2 offering hit Renegar. When Martin and Blake Winebarger drew bases-loaded walks, it was 10-8.

Rowan coach Jim Gantt made a change, moving Bryson Wagner from short to the mound. Ward came through with a humongous at-bat, turning on a 2-1 pitch and blistering it down the right-field line. Renegar and Martin scored easily to tie it. Third-base coach Andrew Jones waved B. Winebarger all the way from first. The throw home from the relay man wasn’t close. Mocksville had its second straight one-run win – it improved to 4-1 in one-run games – and its first win over Rowan in four years (it won 7-6 in 11 innings in 2014).

“I told (Ward) to take until he gets a strike and drive us two runs in,” Kurfees said.

“Man, I was thinking I was going to hit a pea rod and win this game,” Ward said. “(Wagner) threw me a two-seam (fastball) and I jumped on it.”

Jones had the windmill in high gear as B. Winebarger raced toward third.

“I was sending him the whole time,” Jones said. “Worse-case scenario is we’re tied and we’ve got a runner on second with two outs with Carter coming up. I knew with (Blake) Winebarger’s speed he wasn’t going to get thrown out. He’s baseball smart. They were all getting good (secondary) leads.”

Mocksville was certainly a worthy comeback winner, outhitting Rowan 12-7 and committing one error. Martin (2-4, double, triple, walk), B. Winebarger (2-4, walk), Ward (3-4, walk, four RBIs) and Bandy (3-4, double) produced multiple hits. Bandy did his damage off the bench. Foster (1-4, two RBIs) and Highman (1-3, walk) had one hit each.

Martin, vastly improved after hitting .215 in 93 at-bats in 2017, has been absolutely huge this season. He leads the team in average (.463), runs (14), hits (19), doubles (four) and triples (two) and is tied with Foster for first with 12 RBIs. B. Winebarger (.444) and Foster (.413) kept rolling. Ward raised his average from .285 to .343. Bandy raised his average from .222 to .318. Highman picked up his seventh steal, nearly half the Mocksville total (16).

Don’t forget about relievers Brandon Gregory and Ryan Tulbert, who got the win. After P. Winebarger and Bandy were roughed up while combining for eight walks, Gregory came up big in the fifth and sixth, giving up zero hits and striking out four. His ERA through four relief stints is 1.90. Tulbert overcame two walks in a scoreless seventh. He has a 0.00 ERA in three relief outings.

“Gregory pitched lights out and Tulbert got it done,” Kurfees said.

Here’s a fun stat: Mocksville produced its highest hit total against Rowan in six years (it had 12 in a 9-5 win in 2012). Here’s another: It scored the most runs against Rowan in seven years (it won 13-3 in 2011). And another: Mocksville, which started 0-2 in the division in 2017, is riding its best start in six years (it started 8-4 in 2012, the last year that Post 54/174 posted a winning record).