Rockets find ‘sense of urgency,’ rally to beat Red Rams

McDonald: “It’s been a good two-year run”

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

* Photo gallery – more than 800 images
* Roller inspires Red Rams before title game
Rockingham edges Ellerbe, 3-2
* Hamlet gets by Anson in extras

ROCKINGHAM — P4b#1

The Red Rams had Kyle Roller. The Rockets had Brett Young, and Rockingham starting pitcher Jake Ransom’s closest reminder of how life can change in an instant was no further than the brim of his black and orange ball cap.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Rockets starting pitcher tossed six innings in the conference championship and allowed two runs on five hits while walking seven.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Rockets starting pitcher tossed six innings in the conference championship and allowed two runs on five hits while walking seven.

Young’s baseball highlight reel doesn’t come anywhere near that of Roller’s, but Ransom’s connection with Young is closer with his teammate than it is with Roller, a former Rocket and Richmond Raider who provided a bit of inspiration on Saturday for Hamlet’s baseball squad, which traveled to Durham to see the Bulls play against Roller and his Yankees Triple AAA affiliate teammates with the Scranton-Wilkes Barre (Pa.) RailRiders.

Young also traveled — to UNC Chapel Hill for medical treatment after sustaining a head injury on May 3 in an ATV incident. Written underneath the rim of Ransom’s cap: P4b#1 — as in Play for Brett. Until earlier this month, Young wore No. 1 on his back and was the starting second baseman for the Rockets. He continues to recover physically. While his heart has been with the Rockets throughout the balance of the regular season and playoffs, Monday afternoon was his first time back in the dugout. At stake was the Southeastern Middle School Athletic Conference championship and, for the second consecutive season, a perfect record.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Nolan Allen gets back to third base safely.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Nolan Allen gets back to third base safely.

Young wasn’t in the lineup and he never went into the on-deck circle, but he was there in the dugout, donning his No. 1 Rockets jersey and ball cap, khaki shorts, black Nike socks and brown Nike sneakers. And for Ransom and his teammates, that was enough.

“It was a big loss for us, in the field and at the plate,” Ransom said after pitching Rockingham to a 9-2 victory over visiting Hamlet to hang his cap on a second consecutive perfect season. “All it did was put a big fire under our belly. We played hard for him.”

It didn’t start out so well for Ransom and the Rockets.

Alex Anderson slapped a 2-1 Ransom pitch to center field for a single and stole second. Storm Graham hit a one-out liner to left, scoring Anderson for a quick 1-0 lead. Rockets coach Jamie McDonald said his team has struggled much of the season to find that “sense of urgency” needed to maintain focus for seven innings.

“I told them, as we go deeper into the playoffs, we can’t afford to wait” until the middle of the game to become competitive.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Hamlet third baseman Dawson Bryant tags out the Rockets' Garrett Weigman for the second out in the bottom of the third inning.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Hamlet third baseman Dawson Bryant tags out the Rockets’ Garet Weigman for the second out in the bottom of the third inning.

It almost cost Rockingham in its semifinal contest at home against Ellerbe. The Rockets prevailed 3-2 and advanced, but not before the Wildcats played their best game of the season. McDonald said facing a one-run deficit so early helped with a modest — and sorely needed — attitude adjustment.

Down one run heading into the bottom of the first “sort of served as a motivator,” McDonald said.

The Rockets entered their first at-bat with an approach that’s worked all season: “Make the defense make a play.”

So all Rockingham’s nine had to do was put the bat on the ball. The strategy worked.

Leadoff hitter Hunter Parris started things off with a single to left and went to second on a passed ball. Ransom, in the No. 2 hole, lined a single to center to put runners on the corners. Ransom advanced to second base uncontested, and No. 3 hitter Cameron Carraway’s loaded the bases.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Dawson Bryant snags a hard-hit grounder to third in the bottom of the fourth off the bat of Rockingham's Cameron Carraway. Carraway was safe at first.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Dawson Bryant snags a hard-hit grounder to third in the bottom of the fourth off the bat of Rockingham’s Cameron Carraway. Carraway was safe at first.

The Rockets tied the game on an attempted pick-off throw when Red Rams starting pitcher Luke Preslar threw the ball away. With the game knotted 1-1, the floodgates opened for Rockingham — with a little help from Hamlet’s defense.

Nolan Allen’s roundball to second was misplayed, and made twice as bad when Jahan Jones’ errant throw to first got away. The miscues allowed two Rockets baserunners to cross home plate for a 3-1 lead.

The inning continued for Rockingham as Tyler Bass’ sacrifice bunt moved Allen to third. Christopher Austin walked and Garet Weigman worked a 3-2 count until hitting a grounder to third baseman Dawson Bryant. That put Allen on third and Weigman on first. Presser’s second pickoff attempt again went astray. Weigman went to second and Allen scored for a 5-1 lead.

Hamlet coach Ralph Butler’s second mound visit to talk with Preslar was to change things up. Preslar went to first while Anderson, the team’s ace, came on in relief.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com The Rockets celebrate their second consecutive conference championship while, at left, Hamlet coach Ralph Butler congratulates Rockets coach Jamie McDonald.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
The Rockets celebrate their second consecutive conference championship while, at left, Hamlet coach Ralph Butler congratulates Rockets coach Jamie McDonald.

Anderson forced Trevor Whittington into a fielder’s choice for the second out of the inning and struck out Elijah Sanders swinging to end the Rockets’ rally. By then, though, the damage was done: Rockets 6, Red Rams 1 — with six runs scored on only three Rockingham hits.

Rockingham added another run in the bottom of the second. Parris led off with a single to left and moved to second when Ransom drew a walk. Parris scored one batter later when Caraway’s grounder was misplayed. Anderson recovered on the mound by getting Allen to hit a pop-up to short, Bass to fly out to center and Christopher Austin to pop out to the catcher.

“Definitely not,” was how Butler summarized how things didn’t go according to plan.

“We’re here,” he said of the championship game. “There are a lot of teams that wish” they’d made it to the title game.

Click on image for larger version.

Click on image for larger version.

Butler talked of missed opportunities.

“We had plenty of baserunners,” Butler said. “They had timely hits and we didn’t.”

Butler talked about his decision to start Preslar, a seventh-grader, over Anderson, an eighth-grader and his team’s ace. Butler said the two hurlers had been starters “1a and 1b” this season.

“Ever since the Anson game, I’ve struggled with who I’m gonna start,” Butler said. “I was hoping the one I picked was on.”

In addition, he felt the Rockets seemed to struggled with left-handed pitching — see Ellerbe southpaw Logan Moore’s 3-2 loss at Rockingham in the conference semifinal, as well as the Red Rams’ preseason scrimmage.

“Obviously, they didn’t today,” Butler said.

Hamlet’s is a team on the rise and Butler knows it. While he’ll miss the eighth grade leaders on his team, next season’s potential is obvious. Rockingham, on the other hand, finishes a two-year run of perfection. The Rockets were 11-0 last year and with this year’s 13-0 record and second straight conference title — well, that makes four for McDonald in his 16 years at the helm.

Of 16 players on Rockingham’s roster — including Young — the team loses 12 to the Ninth Grade Academy.

 

 

 

Filed in: Featured News, Hamlet, Latest Headlines, Rockingham, Sports

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