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Bat Men: RMA offense awakens in rout of Rocky Mount High

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Rocky Mount Academy’s Isaiah Thomas, left, and Ethan Davis react during their game against Rocky Mount High Tuesday at Fike High School in Wilson.

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

WILSON — Colin Legaj figured it out early in Tuesday’s game against Rocky Mount High. From his spot behind the plate, the sound of Legaj’s mitt popping confirmed that Will Stewart’s arm was lively.

It was clear that the fastball coming from the right-hander’s arm was the ticket to a win.

Legaj, the Rocky Mount Academy catcher, found himself often dropping one finger between his legs, calling for a fastball. The next step was to raise the target. Gryphons batters struggled to make contact when Stewart elevated the pitch, so he stayed up in the zone.

“I was calling it because they kept swinging at it,” Legaj said. “And I figured with two strikes, we’ll see if they can hit it.”

Stewart, a UNC Chapel Hill recruit, pitched six innings and turned in a career day at the plate in leading the Eagles to an 11-1 blowout win over the Gryphons at Wilson Fike in the final game of the Golden Leaf tournament.

“I was hoping to show up and compete. This game has never been played before,” RMH coach Carter Varnell said of the public-private school matchup. “The kids were excited pregame, but hats off to (RMA) for how they competed, how they hit the ball, and how Stewart threw.”

Stewart allowed a run in the bottom of the first, but kept RMH (16-6) off the scoreboard for the rest of his outing. Woodall Rose, who will play at Methodist next year, navigated the bottom of the seventh without issue.

The Gryphons did manage four hits off Stewart, two of which went for extra bases (a triple by Connor Powell and a Sam Mills double), but the hard-throwing senior rarely got into trouble as RMH couldn’t string enough together to bust a big inning.

“He worked ahead and stayed ahead all game,” Varnell said. “He threw a great game.”

RMA (12-5), meanwhile, scored runs at a steady pace, and hung three in the third and four in the sixth to grab a lead it wouldn’t give back. It was a change of pace from the first two games of the tournament which saw the Eagles blow late-inning leads in a pair of losses.

“It was nice to have a little room so we didn’t have to stress about a team coming back on us,” Legaj said. “But we still kept our heads in it.”

The Eagles didn’t have to worry about a comeback, especially not with the way Stewart jolted the offense out of a mini funk with two home runs.

He said it was the first time he hit two homers in a game, and he did so off two different pitchers. Stewart, with his smooth left-handed swing, homered off Gryphons starter Ben Sieracki, then later off Mills.

“I was just seeing it real good today,” Stewart said. “I was sitting away, and reacting to the inside pitch. I’ve been more passive than I wanted to be, so I was trying to take aggressive hacks and it worked out for me today.”

Sieracki didn’t have his best control, and started 15 batters off with 2-0 counts. That led to the junior having to come into the zone, and RMA took advantage by collecting 12 hits.

“Usually he works fast and quick, but he struggled to establish his fastball low and away,” Varnell said of his starter. “And when you get behind, your pitch selection shrinks. So they got a lot of fastballs and they put it in play.”

Other Golden Leaf games

Nash Central 7, Northern Nash 4

Nash Central (15-7) scored a run in the top half of the first, but trailed after the Knights poured in three runs in their half of the third.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t regain the lead until the fifth, when they scored five runs to take the lead for good.

Northern Nash (2-17) collected 10 hits but couldn’t find a way to score after plating one run in the fifth inning. Seniors Aaron Gerlach and Ben Heacox each had three hits, with Gerlach hitting a double and Heacox collecting two RBIs.

Gerlach pitched all seven innings and just two of the seven runs allowed were earned.

Faith Christian 9, East Wake 6

Faith Christian (14-3) won all three games in the tournament, including two over larger public schools.

The Patriots have four games remaining in the regular season, which closes with a May 2 home game against Rocky Mount Academy.

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