Wearing sweaty, dirty uniforms and oversized smiles, Faith Christian Rocky Mount’s Landen Roupp and Rocky Mount Academy’s Reid Johnston, along with a few of their teammates, were more than happy to oblige a group senior photograph request – even if it was just minutes after their latest personal and team duel.
Such is the genteel off-the-field nature of one of Nash County’s most intense baseball rivalries between a pair of schools less than a few miles apart along Winstead Avenue.
But once the first pitch is thrown – usually by either Roupp or Johnston – the lifelong friendships are put on a temporary hold.
That was the case once again Friday as Roupp, a UNC-Wilmington signee, scored his fourth consecutive victory versus RMA over the past two years – this time by a 2-0 margin in front of an overflow crowd at the FCS Baseball Complex.
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The right-handed Roupp mixed his three pitches well to allow just two hits and two walks while striking out nine as his Patriots improved to 19-1 overall and 6-0 in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association’s Coastal Independent Conference.
Johnston, a righty who has signed with N.C. State, was also sharp, scattering five hits, one walk and two unearned runs. Like Roupp, Johnston has started each of the rivals’ last four contest, but has been unable to come up with a victory.
“That game was just two studs on the mound going at it,” said FCS sixth-year head coach Greg Clifton. “These guys are going to State and Wilmington for a reason. I don’t care what level you are talking about – that was two great pitchers there.”
But while Roupp got some assistance from his defense, including a diving outfield grab from Alex Crosby and two caught stealing/pickoff throws from catcher Braxton Varnell, Johnston was hampered by a pair of RMA (10-8, 6-3) throwing errors, both of which immediately led to Patriots’ runs.
“I told our guys that with the pitchers in this game, it was going to come down to whichever team made the little mistakes,” said RMA coach Cameron Ramsey, who won a state championship as a player with nearby Rocky Mount High in 2008. “That’s what ended up happening. We made some errors on defense that ended up killing us.”
With runners on first and third base in the bottom of the second, the Patriots manufactured a run when Eli Ess, on first, attempted a steal. The throw went into centerfield, allowing Louisburg College signee Ben Lewis to speed home with the only run Roupp would need.
FCS tacked on another run in the bottom of the sixth when a throwing miscue off a potential rundown gave Sam Mills the opportunity to come home all the way from second base.
The Patriots have now won 16 consecutive games, with their lone loss coming against Charlotte’s Northside Christian Academy, the same team that eliminated FCS in the semifinals of last year’s NCISAA 2A playoffs.
“We have five starters back from last year, so obviously (being defeated in the semis) has been a motivator,” Clifton said. “It has kind of stuck in my crawl.”
Said Roupp: “We gave it all we had (in each game against Northside), but we kind of felt like we gave it away in the end both times. We would love to have one more chance against them. Hopefully, we will.’’
While FCS boasts possibly its best club in school history, RMA is in a bit of a rebuilding mode under Ramsey, who loves the potential of several of his younger players.
“We will make the playoffs, so we could very well see (Faith) again,” Ramsey said. “They might have beaten us twice already, but the third time in that situation would be winner-take-all.”