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Nelson, L-E lay Bengals’ streak to rest

Posted: March 23, 2014 11:10 a.m.
Updated: March 24, 2014 5:00 a.m.
C-I photo by Tom Didato/

L-E SECOND BASEMAN Cody Mailly watches his throw to first baseman Gunner Smith close the door on Blythewood’s top of the second inning of Friday’s game.

 Streaks are made to be broken and, two went by the wayside Friday night at Optimist Field.
You won’t hear Lugoff-Elgin baseball coach Randy Stokes complaining about either not being in existence anymore.
Getting a lights out pitching performance from Seth Nelson, the hosts Demons put an end to Blythewood’s Region 4-4A 34-game win streak with a 7-3 victory over the Bengals. Blythewood had not lost a conference game in three years and 13 days, since a one-run loss to Spring Valley on March 3 of 2011.
L-E, which improved to 2-0 in 4-4A with this victory, was going for its fourth consecutive shutout. That streak was intact until the guests, which were ranked second in the AAAA state pre-season baseball poll, scored all three of their runs in the top of the seventh frame.
All streaks aside, the story of this contest was Nelson. The tall senior right-hander had a no hitter until Dwight Stokes pushed a bunt between third base and the mound on which Nelson slipped while fielding the ball. Nelson recovered and faced just 19 batters --- one over the minimum --- through six frames and carried a 7-0 lead into the seventh before giving way to Zac Bowers, who came in to record the final out.
“It was unknown going in as to how he was going to perform,” Randy Stokes said of Nelson’s three-hit, two-strikeout gem. “He’s had two good outings, against Ridge View and Crestwood, where he’s thrown a lot of strikes. He’s changed his arm angle, a little bit. He throws downhill, a lot.
“He just did what he needed to do; he threw strikes and our kids made plays behind him. If you get a guy who can throw a lot of strikes and your kids can defend well, you’re going to be in a lot of ballgames.”
There was no bigger play in this game, behind Nelson, than the grounder to third baseman Blake Serpas who fielded the ball and started an around the horn double play to ease Dwight Stokes at second and Connor Grant at first to close the top of the sixth with the Demons still carrying a 3-0 lead into the bottom half of the inning in which they piled on another four runs.
“The turning point of the game was Blake Serpas’ double play ball,” Randy Stokes said. “That took the wind out of their sails.”
The Bengals came into this game with a 4-4A win over Irmo on Tuesday and a 7-2 non-league loss to Sumter on Thursday. The guests sent Toby Robson to the mound and the righty worked himself out of jams in the first three frames all of which saw the hosts getting the leadoff man aboard, only to have nothing to show for their three hits.
“I hoped that we weren’t missing our opportunities,” Randy Stokes said of getting men on but not scoring run.
That all changed in the bottom of the third, after Nelson retired the side in order for a third time.
Russ Radcliff led off the home portion of the third with a double off the fence in center and was bunted to third by Gunner Smith. Blake Serpas, who had three of L-E’s 11 hits on the night, then rapped an RBI single to center to plate the game’s first run. Mikey Branham followed with a single to left to put men on first and second with one gone.
Stokes then called for another bunt from Brock Robinson whose ball went into the air and was grabbed by Robson. Robson then tried to double Branham off first only to have his throw go up the right field line as Serpas came in from second while Branham wound up on third on the two-base error. Branham hiked the lead to 3-0 when he strolled in on Hunter McManus’s single to right.
“We did some small ball stuff that we capitalized on and had some clutch hits,” Randy Stokes said. “We’re doing a lot more bunting than we usually do and it worked out for us tonight. I’m real proud of our kids.”
With Nelson breezing through the BHS order, the three runs looked to be more than enough. But his offense gave him a seven-run cushion thanks to hanging up a four-spot in the sixth. As it turned out, those runs would be valuable after the Bengals scored three times in their final at-bat.
Serpas led off the sixth with an opposite field double to right center before being bunted over to third by Branham. With one gone, pinch hitter Gage Branham drew a walk which ended reliever Hunter Wooten’s night after an inning-plus. Serpas made it a 4-0 game when he scored on an errant pickoff attempt to third base.
The third BHS thrower, Chandler Henderson, was greeted by a Danny Bowen single with Ethan Beasley running for the L-E catcher. L-E went small again with McManus getting aboard with a bunt to load the bags. Shon Belton, pinch-running for Branham, was thrown out at home on Cody Mailly’s grounder for the second out.
Beasley scored to make it 5-0 on a wild pitch while advancing the other runners. Bradwin Salmond then hit a grounder to first which was thrown away to pitcher Hunter Lomas covering the bag as two more runs scored and the lead stood at 7-0.
Blythewood made this one interesting, getting all three of its hits in the seventh inning with Walt Ballentine’s two-out, two-run single driving home runs two and three. That led to Randy Stokes calling on Bowers who retired the potential tying run with a strikeout to end the threat and the evening.
In addition to the three-hit night of Serpas, Bowen and McManus had a pair of singles for the winners. In spite of the Bengals’ collecting just three-hits on the night, Randy Stokes said the visitors are a much better team than they showed on this night.
 “That’s a good team over there, they just didn’t play well tonight,” he said. “That’s what makes baseball such a beautiful game, if you don’t play well … if you don’t play a couple aspects of the game well, you get beat, no matter how good you are. They just didn’t play well, but that’s a good baseball team over there. It just wasn’t there night … it was our night.”
For the Demons, they took care of a pair of region rivals which they have had trouble with in the past in Spring Valley and Blythewood to sit in the driver’s seat in Region 4. In between those wins last week came a thumping of Crestwood in non-league contest as Lugoff-Elgin improved to 5-3 on the season.
“We had a good week; we won three baseball games this week,” said Randy Stokes. “It gives our kids a little bit of confidence … maybe, a lot of confidence.
“I wouldn’t have thought we’d started off (region play) at 2-0 because at the time before region play, our kids were not playing very well. Our kids have really stepped it up.”


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