Rancho grad making strides with Dons

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Hard to say injuring a thumb helps in a game demanding great hands, yet Mitch Rowan reached college baseball’s pinnacle following such a seemingly bad break.

Missing much of a season to injury at Willamette University, the former Rancho Cotate great gained another year in the game following graduation. Rowan played on scholarship for this season’s University of San Francisco team that reached the NCAA Division I tournament.

The Dons were edged out in the Oregon regional where Rowan was among the standout hitters.

“It was definitely cool,” Rowan said. “That’s the goal of every college program, to get in that tournament. We’re proud of what we accomplished.”

In three games, all on national television, the designated hitter and outfielder had four hits in nine plate appearances. Rowan rapped a pair of doubles, scored and knocked in a run — not bad for the big stage.

“He was by far our best offensive player at the end of the year,” said USF head coach Nino Giarratano. “It’s not easy to be successful and jump in and to be part of what we had. Mitch earned great respect of all the players.”

That the All-Empire selection played major college baseball was the end result of Rowan’s commitment to making the most of his years out of Rancho Cotate High School.

Not heavily recruited, Rowan chose Willamette for the opportunity to play both baseball and football at the NCAA Division III level. Rowan was an All-Empire kicker-punter at Rancho Cotate.

Willamette, a small private school in Salem, the Oregon state capital, also proved a good fit academically. Rowan earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise science.

“The opportunity was very special,” Rowan said. “I just felt like I got a very unique college experience.”

Before staking a spot in the Willamette baseball record books Rowan played on one of the best football teams in school history. The high scoring Bearcats reached the second round of the NCAA Division III nationalplayoffs.

After a similarly strong freshman baseball season, Rowan broke out, hitting .403 with 12 home runs and 42 RBIs as a sophomore. Rowan was First Team All-Region.

Then in the sixth game of the 2011 season Rowan broke his left thumb diving for a ball in the outfield. While the season was lost to a medical hardship, Rowan would recover from surgery and come back with confidence.

“My mental game was stronger. I learned to make more adjustments to improve to become a lot better baseball player,” he said.

Following a solid senior season Rowan made All-Northwest Conference a second time. Rowan finished his career in Willamette’s top 10 across four categories including fourth in all-time batting average (.356) and third in home runs (27).

With another season of college baseball available Rowan received a scholarship offer from USF on the recommendation of his coach for two seasons in a top collegiate summer league. Rowan played for the Willmar Stingers, in Minnesota, of the Northwoods League.

Rare is the junior college player invited to play for USF let alone a one-year player.

“We were just really fortunate. He made the transition to Division I baseball in a year,” Giarratano said.

Another injury would test Rowan. A broken bone in his right hand in October limited Rowan’s chances to gain playing time as he wasn’t at full strength until January.

Making the most of opportunities, particularly late in the season, Rowan was a frequent starter.

“The quality of his at-bats allowed him to continue to get more playing time. He had a great idea of the strike zone,” Giarratano said.

Rowan was among the Dons’ top base runners. He finished tied for first in triples, online casino tied for third in base on balls, and tied for fourth in stolen bases.

“I definitely was not content with just making it here,” Rowan said. “I finished off strong.”

So did the Dons, who made the NCAA field after finishing second in the West Coast Conference regular season and tournament.

“Mitch was very important. He really started to do his thing,” Giarratano said. “Mitch hit it here on every level.”

While his college playing days are over, Rowan wants to stay in the game. With another year to complete a master’s degree in organizational leadership, Rowan hopes to catch on with a team this summer in one of the nation’s handful of top independent leagues.

“I’m hoping something works out,” Rowan said. “Being a Division I baseball player, you’re playing against future professional players pretty regularly. Succeeding against some of those guys gives you confidence to play at the next level.”

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