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Bulldogs edge Demons in the Nick of time

Tucker’s pair of RBI singles helps Camden to 3-2 victory

Posted: April 17, 2014 1:38 p.m.
Updated: April 18, 2014 5:00 a.m.

On an unseasonably cool mid-April night, Zac Bowers and Grey Hoke provided wood for the fireplace.
Breaking bats at a fairly regular rate, the two seniors re-staged their mound duel of a year ago in this same event. Unlike that meeting, it was Hoke and Camden which came out on the long end of a one-run victory in edging Bowers and Lugoff-Elgin, 3-2, in Wednesday’s third round of the Kershaw-Richland Wooden Bat Classic.
With the victory, the Bulldogs finished pool play at American Legion Park with a 3-0 record. The Demons, who fell to South Florence one night earlier, 6-2, took a 1-2 mark into Thursday’s tourney finale against Dutch Fork. For CHS, it was its first win in three tries over the 4A cross-river rival this spring.
When Bowers and Hoke hooked up as juniors in this tourney, it was Bowers getting the 1-0 win on a three-hitter while Hoke, a left-hander, allowed one hit in a tough-luck loss. On this night, both aces were brilliant at times, struggled at others and had to overcome a fielding miscue or, two, behind them.
Both L-E runs were unearned while the Bulldogs’ first run was of the same variety.
Statistically, Bowers won the battle but lost the war, as did his opposite number in 2013. The Erskine signee threw six innings of four-hit ball, fanning nine while walking one. Hoke, who was not as sharp as he had been in his two previous outings, scattered seven hits, struck out as many batters while issuing three walks in recording his third consecutive victory.
With runs and scoring chances expected to be at a premium given the pitching matchup, the visiting Demons had a chance to take control of the game in the top of the fifth after Bowers struck out the side in the home half of the fourth.
Trailing, 3-2, L-E’s Cody Mailly reached on a leadoff error when CHS first baseman Lawson Stokes lost the throw from shortstop Cole Irick in the lights. Bradwin Salmond was then called on to bunt Mailly over, but reached on a second error. A passed ball allowed the pair to advance into scoring position for Gunner Smith, who has wore out Bulldog pitching this season. This time, he popped out to Irick for the first out.
With first base open and the Demons’ leading hitter, Blake Serpas, coming to the plate, CHS head coach Denny Beckley never hesitated in taking the bat out of the junior’s hands and giving Serpas an intentional walk. One batter later, a ground ball went to second baseman Tyler Jordan who scooped the ball, by his glove, to Irick covering second whose throw in the dirt to Stokes was backhanded to complete an inning-ending double play.
“At the time,” Beckley said of the passed ball which left first base unoccupied for Serpas, “you’re really frustrated. But in hindsight, you look back on it and say that maybe it was a good thing.”
The series of events kept the momentum at the Dogs’ back.
“It was a great baseball move on Denny’s part, not so much that it was Blake Serpas as it was a lefty-lefty situation,” said L-E coach Randy Stokes said of Beckley’s choosing walk Serpas. “You have to play baseball right there. I thought he made the right decision.”
Later, Stokes said, he second-guessed his own choice with Smith coming to the plate with men on second and third and with no outs.
“We missed an opportunity there,” he said. “If I could do it all over again, I probably would do something different. You kind of get greedy sometimes; with men on second and third and your three hitter up there, if he hits a ball in the gap, you’re winning instead of being tied. We probably could have pushed a run across with a bunt and tied it up, but I gave Gunner a chance to swing. It just didn’t work out.”
Beckley said anytime you intentionally walk a batter, it’s a pick your poison type of proposition. He said the Dogs were fortunate that their defense was able to get Hoke out of the jam.
“Smith and Serpas have both killed us,” he said. “For whatever reason, Grey, kind of, had Gunner’s number tonight and we wanted to pitch to him. Then, it was a no-brainer with one out and first base open to walk Blake and set up a force play. Obviously, the double play ball worked out for us.
“That really fueled Grey to survive though some difficult times and give him that needed burst of energy to finish the game off.”
Hoke worked a scoreless sixth in which the Demons threatened after Danny Bowen unloaded on a two-out double to the gap in left center.
The Dogs were hardly out of the woods yet as L-E made this one more than a bit interesting in the seventh.
With one gone, following Hoke’s final strikeout of the evening, Salmond dropped an opposite field single into shallow left, just over the glove of a leaping Irick. With two gone, Serpas lined a single to left with the pair moving up on a passed ball. Hoke hung on and got a game-ending grounder to Stokes at first to put this one away.
Admitting his southpaw was not as sharp as he had been in wins over A.C. Flora and Dreher, Beckley said Hoke was tough when he needed to bow his back.
“I think Grey really matured as pitcher tonight … even more than he had in his other wins,” said the Bulldog boss. “He did such a great job of learning. He knew from the get-go that he didn’t have his good stuff tonight but he just battled and battled and continued to fight through it.
“I don’t know if his velocity was what it had been, but I thought he had tremendous movement on his ball tonight. I guess that was kind of evident with how many passed balls we had. Grey’s ball really had a lot of movement on his pitches.”
Miscues led to each team scoring a run in their first at-bat.
Mailly led the game off by sending Hoke’s first pitch into center for a single. He then went to third on an errant pickoff attempt. Smith was then hit by a pitch with one gone before taking second on a wild pitch to put men on second and third. A batter’s interference accounted for the second out before a passed ball allowed Mailly to score. When the throw from catcher Nick Tucker got past Hoke, who was covering the plate, Irick fielded the loose ball and fired back to Hoke, who tagged out Smith, who was trying to score from second.
Camden evened things with a run in the first as Irick reached on a one-out error, stole second and came home on Tucker’s two-out single through the box.
The Demons came up the a two-out run of their own in the second as Brock Robinson took a two-strike pitch the opposite way for an RBI double along the right field line. After a walk to Bowen, the hosts appeared to be getting out of the inning unscathed only to  have an error on a Hunter McManus ground ball allow Robinson to come around from second to give L-E a 2-1 lead.
The Bulldogs were able to get to Bowers for a pair in the third before the righty went on a strikeout spree.
Carson Morgan started things by legging out a roller for an infield single. He was thrown out at second after Bowers fielded a Jordan bunt and fired a strike to second base for the first out. With Jordan on second with two gone, Irick lined a run-scoring double to right to even things at 2-2. Tucker then came up big, again, lining a single between third base and shortstop which brought Irick around from second with what proved to be the winning run.
From there, Bowers left runners on second and third with the first of his five consecutive strikeouts. But thanks to Tucker’s two-out singles, the hosts had done enough damage to ruin Bowers’ and the Demons’ night.
“I thought Hoke threw very well,” Stokes said in assessing the pitching matchup. “He bore down when he had to when we had runners in scoring position and we had a lot of them on (nine) during the night, but didn’t get anything done.
“Bowers, on the other hand, maybe, a hit is the difference in the game. We couldn’t figure (Nick) Tucker out. He had some great at-bats against us.”
Beckley said Tucker has been an unsung hero for his team as the starting catcher while coming through with some big hits which has landed him in the cleanup position in the order.
“Nick has worked extremely hard,” he said. “He takes a lot of extra cuts in the tunnel (batting cage) off the tee and has really worked on his extension. He has made himself into a darn good player. He’s always been an extremely talented player but he has really come through for us in the clutch, especially lately. He’s really come into his own.”
One night after his offense was limited to two hits in a 6-2 loss to South Florence, Stokes said there was a lot to like from the Demons who battled until the final out in this game.
“Our kids did everything we needed them to do,” he said. “We talked about getting men on base tonight and giving ourselves opportunities to score and, we did that. I was proud of our kids for how they swung the bat and worked counts and did the little things right to get on base.
“Our approach tonight was a lot better than it was last night.”

Radcliff on the mend: Before Lugoff-Elgin stepped on the field for Monday’s first game win over Lower Richland, head coach Randy Stokes received some positive news when it was learned that starting junior shortstop and number three hitter Russ Radcliff’s knee injury was not as bad as first thought.
The third-year starter went down with a non-baseball related injury the day of L-E’s loss to Blythewood on April 10. At the time, it was feared that the injury could sideline Radclifffor the remainder of the season.
Following a trip to the doctor, the injury was said to be a sprain and that, hopefully, Radcliff could returns as early as in two weeks.

Hoke-y pokey? Before his start on Wednesday, CHS lefty Grey Hoke stopped by to talk with L-E pitching coach Jeremy Ray, who serves in the same capacity for the Kershaw County Post 17 American Legion baseball team of which Hoke was a member.
Ray asked Hoke how he was doing and Hoke said he was more nervous about competing in Thursday’s home run derby for the Bulldogs than he was about pitching a few hours later.
Turns out, according to Hoke who had a designated hitter batting for him on Wednesday, that CHS head coach Denny Beckley did not want to mess up the swing of one of his regular players by going for the fences each time in the competition. With that being the case, Hoke was more than happy for the opportunity to swing for the fences.

Day two: Tuesday, Camden blanked Lower Richland, 8-0, while L-E came out on the short end of a 6-2 loss to South Florence, which went 2-1 in pool play.

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