OWINGSVILLE Rowan County’s 5-0 win over Bath County in Monday night’s 61st District championship was all business.
One would think that the Vikings’ sixth straight district championship would have been reason for celebration, but the team packed up like it was any other the game. The Vikings remained focus on a much larger goal: winning the region and a chance at the state title.
“It is awesome we keep getting these district titles, but that’s not really our goal. I don’t want to be unappreciative of it, but we are just trying to focus on region and get to the state tournament,” said Rowan County ace AJ Hacker.
Hacker has pitched the last three district championships for the Vikings — all three against Bath County. It was also the second time the Vikings pitched Hacker against the Wildcats this season.
Hacker tallied 18 strikeouts in the first game against Bath County, allowing the Vikings to win 1-0. His Monday performance was hardly as flashy, but Hacker knew just what had to be done.
“I don’t know by looking at him that he had his best stuff tonight, but that is the thing about AJ. He is going to battle night in and night out. So, great performance on his part,” said Rowan County coach Scott Collins.
Hacker collected 11 strikeouts and gave up only one hit during six innings on the mound. Nathan Davis had the only hit for Bath County.
With bases loaded in the fourth inning and only a three-run lead, Hacker struck out Bath County’s James Fraley, Jake Porter and Austin McFarland to get the Vikings out the the inning unscathed.
“That was real stressful on me,” Hacker said. “I probably got a few gray hairs from that. But once we got those bases loaded, I knew I had to bear down and do the thing I am good at, throwing strikes and getting guys out.”
He sat another three in the sixth inning before being relieved by Corey Binion in the seventh. Binion ended the game by striking out the only three batters he faced.
The Vikings (35-3) warmed up the bats by the second inning. Devon Stevens got it going with a hard-hit ball to center field. He was batted in by Ryan Mullen, who singled to center field and advanced to second on the throw. Mason Moore scored on the same play to put the Vikings up two runs going into the third.
The Vikings scored runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
“We knew going into the season we were going to have a pretty good pitching staff,” Collins said. “It was a matter of whether we could field it and hit it. Once we got all those things clicking, we have become a pretty daggone good baseball team.”
Moore had his best plate performance all year. He went 3 for 3 and scored three runs in his first district championship with the Vikings. Mullen, also at the bottom of the lineup for the Vikings, went 2 for 3 at the plate.
“We had some guys step up tonight that we don’t always see step up. It was just an all-around team effort,” Collins said.
Shane Taylor and Matthew Gagliano were both 2 for 4 to give the Vikings a total of 10 hits.
Both teams will advance to the region tournament this Saturday at Raceland.