SALISBURY – Something good might have come out of the Area 3 championship game for Randolph County Post 45, the losing part aside.
“It’s just a reality check that we can lose,” left fielder Adam Cole said.
Post 45 hadn’t been in a competitive game in more than three weeks, then didn’t execute well in numerous tight spots in Friday night’s game at Newman Park. Rowan County never trailed in a 6-4 decision.
The outcome halted a 12-game winning streak, but there’s plenty still ahead for Randolph County.
“It’s good for us to get the opportunity to see some of the pitching and go against some hitters like we’re going to see,” said Trey Way, who started on the mound. “Now we know what we need to do.”
Post 45 (27-9) is set to open pool play in the state tournament Tuesday night against host Fuquay-Varina Post 116, which is the defending champion. The tournament concludes July 30.
Regardless of the outcome in the states, Randolph County has a spot reserved for the Southeast Regional, which will be contested Aug. 3-7 at McCrary Park in Asheboro. The state champion – or runner-up if Post 45 wins – also heads to the regional.
Rowan County (34-7) repeated as Area 3 champion.
“You can’t go out there and go through the motions,” Post 45 manager Ronnie Pugh said, “We had every opportunity. Those things come back to bite you.”
Rowan County provided an upgrade in competition, something that Randolph County is bound to encounter on a regular basis the rest of the way.
“Seeing better pitching is probably a plus for us going into the state tournament,” Post 45 right fielder Blake Marsh said. “That’s something we might need.”
Rowan County touched Way for two runs in the first inning and two more in the third. He was lifted after 2 1/3 innings.
“That’s the first game I had my stuff and they just overmatched it sometimes and got barrels on it,” Way said.
Tanner Marsh moved from shortstop to pitch the rest of the way for Post 45.
But the real strife for Randolph County came with botched opportunities.
Still, with loading the bases with no outs in the seventh, there was a chance they could pull it out. Instead, Blake Marsh popped out before Way’s walk forced in a run. On the next pitch, Tyler Parks’ dribbler back toward the mound resulted in a game-ending 1-2-3 double play.
That capped the frustration for what Blake Marsh called a “very winnable” game on the Catawba College campus, where he attends.
The offensive frustrations began earlier for Randolph County. Way led off the second inning by smashing a ball off the left-field wall, reaching third base in time but called out when he popped off the bag after his slide.
Post 45 got on the board when Parks beat out a two-out infield single in the fourth. Randolph County closed within 4-3 in the fifth, with Tanner Marsh’s double and a fielding blunder resulting in runs. Then there were runners at second and third with no outs, but reliever Casey Gouge struck out Blake Marsh, Way and Parks to douse the threat.
Tatum Marsh racked up three hits and Braylen Hayes was credited with two hits for Randolph County.
While winning the 12 games in a row, there wasn’t a result closer than a 9-0 score for Post 45. This ought to get the players’ attention.
“For (states and) regionals, I think it’s not a terrible thing,” Cole said.
Post 45 came off three routs shortened by the mercy rule in the best-of-5 semifinals against Kannapolis after sweeping a best-of-3 quarterfinals series against Mooresville. It might be time to tune-up with more at-bats with game pressure and additional time on the mound for fine tuning.
“We’ve got a lot of people who needs a little bit of work,” Pugh said.
Randolph County lost to Fuquay-Varina twice in the regular season, so being in that pool figures to be a challenge. Hope Mills and Cherryville are also in Post 45’s pool among the eight-team field.