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Demons stop Dogs in their tracks, 3-2

Posted: March 27, 2014 1:57 p.m.
Updated: March 28, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Hunter McManus is hardly the most imposing figure on the baseball field.
But as far as Camden is concerned, the Lugoff-Elgin centerfielder may as well be Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider all rolled into one.
On a cold night in which both CHS runs and one of the Demons’ came via the long ball, it was McManus’s gunning down Lawson Stokes at the plate in the top of the fourth which kept the hosts within a run in L-E’s 3-2 win over their cross-river rivals in Wednesday’s non-conference contest at Optimist Field.
Camden, which had five runners gunned down on the base paths in one form or another, fell to 4-4 on the season with the loss. The Demons continued their current hot streak in winning their fifth in a row to improve to 6-3.
Carrying a 2-1 lead into the top of the fourth, CHS got Stokes aboard when he led things off by being hit by a Jake Brazell offering. Stokes then stole second and went to third on a wild pitch, still with no outs. Nick Tucker then lofted a fly ball to medium center field which McManus hauled in, after carefully measuring his steps. Stokes broke for home on the play only to be tagged out by Danny Bowen who took a one-hop strike from McManus.
That play, said L-E head coach Randy Stokes and Lawson Stokes’ cousin, was one of several defensive gems which helped turn the momentum in the Demons’ favor.
“If you look back on the past couple years,” Stokes said of the senior left-hander, “Hunter’s made a couple plays like that. If you watch him in pre-game, you would say, ‘The kid’s not a great thrower.’ But he’s a winner and he made a play.”
Standing a few feet beside his coaching colleague and friend, CHS head coach Denny Beckley was kicking himself for some of the chances his team took when they had men on base. The Dogs had one runner gunned down trying to steal second and another trying to swipe third. The Bulldogs had a runner picked off second base and one thrown out at third trying to take two bases on an errant pickoff attempt at first. Those were in addition to McManus’ throw to complete the Demons’ second double play in as many innings.
“Hopefully, I won’t lose my job for getting so many people thrown out in those crucial situations,” Beckley said. “Give (L-E) credit because they made great throws when they needed to. There were some ‘bang-bang’ plays in there.
“I ran us out of some plays and out of some runs. It’s going to be tough to swallow. This one’s on me.”
Both CHS starter Will Abbott and L-E senior Jake Brazell got off to rather rocky starts before settling down.
Brazell had a chance to come undone in the second as Austen Haney was hit by a pitch before stealing second. Brazell helped himself with an inside move which picked Haney off for the first out. But Camden did not go away quietly as a Lawson Stokes walk was followed by Tucker’s line drive home run to left center which gave the Dogs a 2-0 lead. The guests had a chance to tack on another run in the second, only to leave Bennett Harrelson stranded at third after having followed Tucker’s blast with a double.
In the bottom of the second, it was L-E’s turn as Gunner Smith deposited a 3-1 fastball well into the night with a solo home run to left to cut the deficit in half. The middle of the plate fastball was one the few mistake pitches which the Abbott made on the night.
“Will did a good job of settling down,” Beckley said of the 6-foot-3 sophomore right-hander who fell to 2-1 on the season. “Will is a really strong and he got better in the third and fourth innings. He continues to make progress and is doing some great things for us. He put us in a good situation tonight but we just didn’t come through in the clutch.”
Count Stokes impressed with how Abbott responded following his giving up the long ball.
“I thought he was sharper in the third, fourth and fifth innings than he was in the first and second,” Stokes said. “He was locating better and had more velo(city). He challenged our guys. He’s going to be a good player. He’s not bad, right now, but he’s going to be really good before it’s over.”
Those two runs looked fairly good, given the way Abbott was throwing in the middle innings. But the Dogs missed chances to add to their lead thanks to a third inning around the horn double play which started when L-E third baseman Blake Serpas stabbed a rocket off the bat of Cole Irick which came after Darius Smith’s leadoff single, the final hit of the night surrendered by Brazell.
“If you would have told me at the beginning of the game that the final score would have only been 3-2,” Beckley said, “I would have really been surprised. (Brazell) did a good job of settling down. We didn’t have many hits. We have to make better adjustments at the plate.”
Brazell allowed just three hits while fanning two in six-plus innings of work. With this being the first of three games in as many nights for the Demons, Stokes needed his right-hander to come up big in what the L-E boss said was Brazell’s best performance for the red and blue.
“We needed him to go deep and save everybody else because we still have two region games this week,” Stokes said. “Jake struggled, at times, but he worked his way out of it; that might be the senior maturity that he has.
“He would probably tell you himself that he needs to work ahead more and be able to throw his curveball for strikes. But you can’t fault the kid because he went out and battled for us.”
After McManus’ grab and throw squashed a potential CHS run in the fourth, the Dogs had a runner thrown on at third with one gone in the fifth as Brazell posted another zero on the board.
In the bottom of that inning, the Demons finally were able to string a couple hits together and pushed across the tying and, eventual, winning runs.
Cody Mailly got things going with a one-out single to left. With two gone and Mailly on second after a stolen base, Russ Radcliff lined an RBI single to center before he stole second. Smith then knocked in his second run of the game, this a single to center as the Demons went on top, 3-2.
The hosts threatened to cushion their lead in the sixth as Serpas led off with a single which chased Abbott from the mound in favor of Josh Hough. With Serpas on third, Hough kept the Dogs within a run by getting a pair of strikeouts followed by a fly ball out.
Brazell faced one batter in the seventh and walked Tucker to lead off the inning. That was enough for Stokes and pitching coach Jeremy Ray who decided to bring in Zac Bowers, the scheduled starter for L-E’s Thursday game at Richland Northeast.
“I asked Zac before he went out there if he would be able to bounce back tomorrow and he said, yes, as long as he didn’t throw many pitches,” Stokes said of the decision to bring in his team’s senior ace.
“He was only going that one inning. If they tied it up, we were going to go in another direction. You have to play as it is right now. We had an opportunity tonight. You can’t live on tomorrow you have to live in the present. We had a gut feeling (about Bowers) and Jeremy (L-E pitching coach Ray) was good with it. He hadn’t thrown an inning since Friday.”
Bowers missed his mark on a pickoff throw to first which rolled into foul territory as Tucker rounded second and headed for third only to be thrown out by a strike from right fielder Brock Robinson. Bowers then got a comebacker and a strikeout for the seven-pitch save.
“We had a lot of base runners tonight,” Beckley said following a game in which 11 CHS players reached based. “Again, going back to being too aggressive and running ourselves out of too many innings really hurt us.”
As for the Demons, whether it is with the bat, the glove or, on the mound, they are getting contributions across the board.
“It’s been a different guy stepping it up for us every night, it seems,” Stokes said. “We’re making some big plays when we have opportunities to make them. It’s not always going to be like that but, right now, we’re enjoying it.”
CHS, L-E and NC schedule changes: Due to Tuesday’s rains, L-E’s game at Richland Northeast was postponed and was played on Thursday.
In addition, due to the threat of rain on Friday, Camden moved its scheduled game at Chapin to Thursday night while North Central moved its scheduled Friday home game with Fairfield Central up a night to Thursday.

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