Rowan Co. softball wins Little League World Series

The team went undefeated in the postseason, beating River Ridge, La., to earn its second title in five years

The Rowan County softball team celebrates after winning last Wednesday’s Little League World Series championship game over River Ridge, La., in Portland, Ore. (Photo courtesy of Rowan County Little League)

Most communities schedule parades for holidays such as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. In Salisbury, they hold them in the seemingly random midsummer heat of August.

That’s when the local girls youth softball team returns home from the Little League World Series in Portland, Ore.

Teams representing the Rowan County Little League have qualified for the nationally televised tournament four times in the past five years, advancing to the final game on each trip. This year’s squad brought home its second championship trophy with a 4-1 victory against River Ridge, La., last Wednesday.

It was a victory celebrated literally from coast-to-coast, starting with a dogpile on a diamond in Oregon and continuing with a happy homecoming and yet another triumphant stroll through the streets of Salisbury.

“When we got home, we had a welcome in downtown where our bus stopped and we were greeted by friends and family, along with the Catawba (University) football team and a couple hundred community members,” said coach Steve Yang said. “It was very exciting for the players and their parents to see.”

It was especially meaningful for Yang, who was also the coach of the Rowan Little League entry that won the World Series in 2015. His oldest daughter, Ellen, was a member of that team. Younger daughter Ashley continued the family tradition this year by contributing to a title of her own.

According to the coach, the siblings aren’t the only common bond between the two championship teams.

“In my opinion, no one gave this group of girls a chance from the beginning. But they worked and got better all summer,” Yang said. “That’s what makes them so special, kind of like the 2015 team. No one really gave those girls a chance, either. They just went along for the ride and just kept winning.”

In fact, they never lost once postseason play began, sweeping through the state, regional and national tournaments with an unblemished 17-0 record.

One of its closest calls came in the World Series semifinals against the host Oregon team. Playing against a strong opponent with a decidedly partisan crowd behind it, Rowan County survived an eight-inning marathon by winning 3-2 when Riley Haggas drove home Campbell Schaen with an RBI single in the top of the second extra frame.

The following night, the North Carolina team didn’t wait to get its offense going.

It put three runs on the board in the top of the first on singles by Lauren Vanderpool and Schaen, a hit batter, a two-run double by Haggas and a squeeze bunt by Ashley Yang. Kennedi Fisher added some insurance by scoring on a wild pitch in the second to build a lead that was never threatened thanks to a nine-strikeout performance by pitching ace Schaen on the mound.

“In the top of the first, (Louisiana) was able to put a couple of runners on, but we were able to get out of it. Then we came back and scored three,” Steve Yang said. “That was huge. I knew (Louisiana) was a good team, but scoring three runs off of Campbell Schaen would have been a monumental feat. We felt a lot more confident after that first inning.”

As successful as the Rowan County Little League program has been, winning the title was a vindication of sorts for at least five team members who were also on a 2018 squad that lost in the regional final and missed out on a trip to Portland.

Besides Schaen, Haggas, Vanderpool, Fisher and Amy Yang, the other team members are Avrelle Harrell, Kynlee Dextraze, Emma Rae Cline, Cadence Lane, Arabelle Shulenberger, Andie Evans, Lexie Ritchie, Kassidy Sechler and Carmen Freeze.

It’s a group of players that came together six weeks ago and, according to their coach, bonded quickly into a championship unit.

Steve Yang said that the secret to Rowan County’s success has been the cooperation that exists between the Little League and several area travel programs.

“It takes a real commitment for parents and the players to do two different teams at one time and make it work,” Yang said. “They’ve really bought into that here, because in a lot of other communities, they play either one or the other. That’s how players develop. That’s how you get better as a league.”

And that, at least in Salisbury, is how parades get scheduled on seemingly random mid-August afternoons.