RACELAND – For three innings Saturday, Rowan County’s baseball team looked a bit befuddled.
The last three, however, the Vikings were completely clearheaded.
They became the equivalent of a fleet of 56-footlong Norwegian snekkja warships by scoring all their runs in a 10-0, six-inning win over East Carter in the 16th Region quarterfinals at Raceland-Worthington High School.
According to Viking (Scandinavian) lore, Cnut the Great used 1,200 snekkjas (which carried as many as 41 men each) in Norway in 1028. The Morehead version maybe seemed as daunting, at least to the Raiders — Rowan County sent 13 batters to the plate and scored eight times in the fourth inning, and finished the proceedings with two more in the sixth.
In case you’re counting, Rowan County won its 28th straight, improved to 36-3 and recorded its state-record sixth straight shutout with 39 consecutive scoreless innings.
“Obviously, once you get runs on the board, it does make things a little easier,” said Rowan County coach Scott Collins.
If Saturday’s win was a two-act play about a North Sea kingdom, senior AJ Hacker could portray Cnut, who was king of Denmark, England and Norway in the 11th Century. His home run, single, three RBIs and three runs scored led the eight-run, 13-batter, fourth-inning flurry. Rowan County senior pitcher Matthew Gagliano, meanwhile, was a warrior who threw lots of spears. Donovan Damron’s game-opening single was the only hit East Carter (12 17) had all day, and Gagliano struck out six over five innings. There were three more Viking heroes: junior Devon Stevens, 3 for 4 with a double and two runs; junior Mason Moore, who drove in a run and scored another; and senior Ryan Mullen, 2 for 3 with a double.
Saturday’s first three innings and the last three were like comparing Leo Tolstoy’s, 587,287-word “War and Peace” to a fortune cookie missive. East Carter left-hander Caden Mc-David struck out four and had a curveball that often had the Vikings swinging late.
“(McDavid) was foolin’ ’em,” East Carter coach Jeremiah Shearer said. “Yeah, we were feeling good. We were using a lotta changeups, off-speed, curveball, changeup. (Rowan County was) were kinda on the front foot.”
After Hacker’s long, far one in the fourth on McDavid’s 1-0 delivery, Rowan County’s offense took off.
Stevens had an infield single (and he scored on Moore’s single). Moore came in on Nick Eastham’s bases-loaded walk. Mullen singled. Hacker scored Gagliano and Eastham with a base hit. Stevens doubled home Hacker.
Including Hacker’s homer, that’s eight runs on seven hits.
“It was a fastball,” Hacker said of his home run pitch. “I guess they were trying to run it inside because I crowd the plate, but they left it up.”
Much of East Carter’s downfall was self-inflicted — the Raiders committed four errors, including two in the fourth inning.
“We’ve just gotta make plays, and we didn’t make plays in that inning, and (Rowan County) did what good teams do,” Shearer said.
In the sixth, Rowan County’s Shane Taylor reached second on an error.
Matthew Holmes hit Hacker, and after Stevens doubled, Chase Alderman sent home Taylor and Stevens home.
Rowan County thus faces Boyd County for the first time this season in the semifinals on Monday at 4 p.m. But first, Hacker had to endure some well-deserved grief from his teammates when he tripped over second on his fourth-inning single.
“They called me ‘motor skills,’” Hacker said. “I used to trip a lot freshman and sophomore year. I grew out of it, but I guess I still had one in me.”