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May 6, 2021

Legion Baseball: Shepherd leads romp against Greensboro

SALISBURY — One of the great things about American Legion baseball is you play almost every night, and Hunter Shepherd didn’t have to wait long to redeem himself.
Shepherd, a Catawba signee, belted two homers, drove in five runs, scored four times and enjoyed a perfect evening at the plate as Rowan obliterated the Greensboro Post 53 Redwings, 15-2, in seven innings and in under two hours. Darkness had yet to descend on Newman Park when fans filed happily to the parking lot.
Shepherd was on the mound when Rowan’s lead slipped away in the ninth inning at High Point on Sunday, but he didn’t lose any confidence. That temporary setback just pushed him to get to Newmam Park even earlier than usual for Monday’s game with Greensboro.
“I did a little extra work, took a few extra hacks before the game,” Shepherd said. “Sure, Sunday was disappointing, but those things happen in baseball.”
Greensboro hurler Travis Hunt began the bottom of the first by hitting Chandler Blackwelder and Seth Cauble with pitches, and Shepherd promptly launched a three-run homer.
“It was a changeup, and one of the things we work on a lot is keeping our weight back and staying on the baseball,” Shepherd said. “I was able to keep enough back to get it out.”
Rowan (10-4) rolled from there behind Catawba signees Sawyer Strickland, who worked five innings for his third win, and Bryan Ketchie, who put up zeroes in the sixth and seventh. Rowan has employed — and enjoyed — the Strickland/Ketchie combination five times and has won all five.
“Greensboro has good hitters, but they were facing two of our better pitchers,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said. “And Shepherd got our offense started pretty quick.”
Dillon Bowman’s RBI single in the third cut Rowan’s lead to 3-1, but Shepherd unloaded again leading off the bottom of the third. This time it was a 2-1 fastball that he walloped a long way.
“I think they wanted to stay away, but that pitch came middle-in, and I was able to line it up,” Shepherd said.
In the Rowan fourth, Chandler Blackwelder roped one of his three doubles, and, with two out and first base open, Greensboro intentionally walked Shepherd. There were scattered boos, but it was sensible baseball.
The next at-bat might have been the most important of the night, as Lee Poteat followed the intentional walk with a run-scoring single. Shepherd is going to get pitched often as the season moves along, and Poteat may be the guy who can make teams pay for it. Poteat began the season hitting sixth in the lineup, but with Juan Garcia still out with back tightness, Poteat batted cleanup on Monday.
“Hunter was on tonight, and I knew they might start walking him,” Poteat said. “When teams are giving us baserunners, we’ve got to get them in, and I was able to do that tonight.”
A dropped fly ball followed Poteat’s clutch hit, and Rowan led 7-1.
Christian Rodgriguez smacked a solo homer for Greensboro (6-4) in the top of the fifth.
But Rowan got five runs in the bottom of the inning. Following another free pass to Shepherd with runners at second and third, Poteat drilled a two-run single for a 10-2 lead.
“Poteat stays on breaking balls as well as any hitter we’ve got,” Gantt said. “He keeps his hands back and thinks up the middle.”
The defensive highlight for Rowan was catcher Pearce Wilhelm picking a runner off first when Strickland was in a jam in the third.
“Wilhelm has a great arm and he made a quick snap throw,” Gantt said.
Rowan’s 16-hit assault included three runs scored and two RBIs by Blackwelder at the top of the lineup. He got a scare in a recent home game when he was struck by a pitch in the jaw, but he’s come back stronger than ever.
“The first at-bat after getting hit was at Kernersville, and I thought about it some,” Blackwelder said. “But after that it really was back to normal. It’s behind me now, and I’m still seeing the ball good.”
Blackwelder scored four runs and just missed his fourth homer of the summer on a ball he hammered off the left-field wall. Assistant coach Luke Setzer made an odd motion with his arms as Blackwelder pulled into second base, and Blackwelder responded.
“Luke was making a bench-press motion, telling me that double would’ve been a homer with a little more weight-lifting,” Blackwelder said.
Shepherd didn’t get walked in sixth and sent a towering sacrifice fly to right field for his fifth RBI.
Trevor Atwood also had three hits for Rowan, while Brett Graham had two.
But mostly this was one about Shepherd and the red-hot hitter who followed him.
“Poteat is on fire and I’ve got a lot of confidence in him,” Shepherd said. “If they put me on, there’s a good chance the guys behind me will drive the runs in.”
•••
NOTES: Shortstop Dalton Lankford is in Texas for school visits and baseball workouts. In Lankford’s absence, second baseman Brett Graham has shifted to shortstop, the position he played at West Rowan, with Tanner File handling second base. … Brandon Walton socked his team-leading ninth double in the third inning. … Poteat (.456) has an even higher batting average than Shepherd (.434). Shepherd has 27 RBIs, while Poteat has 20. … John Owen was chosen for the prestigious State Games, so he won’t be pitching for Rowan for a while. … Rowan is off tonight and Wednesday and plays Kernersville at home on Thursday.

Greensboro 001 010 0 — 2 7 4
Rowan County 301 353 X — 15 16 1
W — Sawyer Strickland (3-0). L — Travis Hunt.
HR — Greensboro: Christian Rodriguez, Rowan: Hunter Shepherd 2 (4).
Leading hitters — Greensboro: Jehu Zarate 3-for-3. Rowan: Shepherd 3-for-3, 4 runs, 5 RBIs. Chandler Blackwelder 3-for-4, 4 runs. Trevor Atwood 3-for-4. Lee Poteat 2-for-5, 3 RBIs. Bret Graham 2-for-3.

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