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Armed and Dangerous

Wealth of pitching means loftier goals for Legion squad

Posted: May 21, 2014 1:40 p.m.
Updated: May 26, 2014 5:00 a.m.

There’s an old baseball adage which says that you can never have enough pitching. This year, thanks to an influx of arms and a new three-game-a-week League III schedule, the Kershaw County Post 17 American Legion baseball team may well have mound talent to burn.
After years of trying to find someone who could give them a few innings of work to fill in the gaps during a  busy stretch of games, the locals appear to have a well-stocked arsenal ready to take to the hill in a season which opens Saturday with a two-day, three-game tournament in Waynesville, N.C.
As he sat on a picnic table beneath the shade of a tree prior to Monday’s practice, third-year Post 17 head coach Craig Smith could not keep from smiling when he talked about a four-man starting rotation which could have the locals still playing deep into July.
The 17ers return three starters from a year ago in Zac Bowers, Grayson King and Grey Hoke. Now, newcomer Will Detwiler has been thrown into the mix to help form a mound corps which have all signed with a college program with King, a former North Central standout, having redshirted at Francis Marion this past year.
Bowers signed with Erskine College earlier this year. This past season at Lugoff-Elgin, the right-hander went 3-5 with a 1.90 earned run average in earning All-Region 4-4A honors. King, a third-year Legion starter, was the 2013 Region 3-AA player of the year for the Knights after the right-hander finished with an 8-2 record on the mound and pitching to a 1.35 earned run average.
Hoke, who has signed with The Citadel, is coming off a 5-1 campaign as a senior at Camden High. The 6-foot-3 lefty had a 2.33 earned run average. Detwiler, a Boykin resident who attended Heathwood Hall, is another 6-foot-3 lefty and a recent College of Charleston signee.
Add to that group returnee and soon-to-be L-E graduate Jake Brazell, who pitched well in a starting and relief role for the Demons as well as in relief last summer for P-17, and 6-foot-5 inch righty Elliot Campbell, who recorded a pair of wins as a freshman at L-E this past season, and Smith has plenty of reasons to be optimistic when it comes to his pitching options.
“It’s the best mound staff we’ve had since I’ve been here,” he said. “We have some dogs (pitching aces) out in the pen and when you open the gate, it’s which one are you going to go to. We have Grayson, Grey and Zac all coming back and Jake Brazell is throwing very well for us. And Will Detwiler has been a pleasant surprise for us.
“With three games each week, and our having four starters, we’re going to be able to show a good arm every inning of every game. We feel that we’re not going to have to send anybody out there just to eat up innings. We can be competitive with the staff we have.”
With two lefties and four righties, Smith said it is a “pick your poison” type of proposition for KC’s opponents.
“You can go with Grey Hoke who is 83 to 85 (miles per hour) from the left side,” he said. “You can go with Zac Bowers who is anywhere from 85 to 87 from the right side. You can go with Grayson King who is 87 to 88 and might tough 90, from the right side. Then, you come with Will Detwiler who looks like he’s going to be in the upper 80s to low 90s for us from the left side.”
Smith did not say which pitcher would line up at which spot in the rotation. But with this depth and playing three League III games per week, one or more of the five could be asked to fill the role of closer or, long reliever if needed. 
“Grayson stacks up, body-wise, as a great closer for us,” Smith said of King, one of two pitchers who could see time playing in the field. “It remains to be seen if he can throw enough strikes. He threw well at Lancaster (in an exhibition game) last week. He has a nasty changeup, now.
“We have the luxury, with a three-game week, of having four or five guys who we can go to. Now, if we have a pitcher who has a bad night after three or four innings, we’ll get him out of there and go to the next guy, especially if it’s a Monday night age and he hasn’t thrown many pitches. Then, we can bring him back on Friday night.”
What Smith will not ask his pitchers to do, nor does he expect them to do, is to throw complete games each time out, especially given the nine-inning American Legion contests. “We’re going to ‘eye it up’ each time we take the field,” he said. “We’ll have a pitching plan for that week and what happens the week before will dictate what happens the following week.”
Handling the pitching staff will be catchers Austin Hayes, an L-E grad who started behind the plate as well as in field for the 17ers a year ago, and Christian Flick, who divided time between the CHS junior varsity and varsity teams this past season.
“Austin is framing and blocking the ball well behind the plate,” Smith said. “I love Christian Flick; he has a great attitude and a great work ethic. He’s going to help us behind the plate.”
Gunner Smith, a third-year KC player and rising senior at L-E, will be at first base along with rising Camden High senior and P-17 returnee Lawson Stokes. There is a battle being waged for playing time at second base between P-17 returnee and All-Region 4-4A player Blake Serpas, a rising senior at L-E who just returned to the field on Monday from a hand injury, and Tyler Jordan, who is coming off a strong junior season at CHS.
Russ Radcliff, an All-4-4A choice this past season as a junior at L-E, returns for his third summer campaign at shortstop. Third base looks to belong to returning starter and newly minted Region 3-AA player of the year at North Central, Tyler Bowers. Smith said the rising junior at NC will bat in the third or cleanup slot in the order. Look for Mikey Branham, who will graduate from L-E next week, to see time at designated hitter.
“We have the flexibility to move people around in the infield,” Smith said. “We have guys there who can play more than one position if we need them to play someplace else and when we do that, we’re not losing anything there.”
Broderick Gaither, who is coming off another All-Region 3-AA campaign as a senior at NCHS, is back for his third American Legion campaign and will man the spacious center field in American Legion Park. The battle for left field is being waged between King, who is swinging the bat well in the pre-season, and Bradwin Salmond, who is coming off a solid eighth-grade season at L-E, and who needs to get used to seeing the type of pitching at this level.
In right field, the 17ers have Ethan Beasley, a rising senior at L-E who started for the Demons in right, as well as Detwiler who has proven to the KC staff that he is more than capable of being able to help the team with his bat as well as with his arm.
Smith said he expects League III which includes perennial state power Sumter, Manning-Santee, Cheraw, Hartsville and Dalzell-Shaw, to be a highly competitive circuit. In a scheduling change, however, this season, each team will face off three times in the same week. By doing that, a team cannot save its best pitcher to throw against one particular team each time they meet.
Smith, who played baseball at Camden High, for the P-17ers and then at Coastal Carolina University, said he likes the new format. And with the arms which KC has, why shouldn’t he.
 “I’m a big fan of the three-game a week format because it has more of a college weekend series type of feel to it,” Smith said. “With the three-game format, you find out who the better team is because you don’t see a team’s number one each time. If you struggle early in the week and run out of pitching, it’s going to be a tough road toward the end of the week. If you get down to a team’s fifth or sixth pitcher at the end of the week, it’s going to make it tough.
“But we can only control what we can control and that is our approach to the game. We feel we can go out and compete, night in and night out. It should be a very competitive league; League III is always a very competitive, but you have to like our chances with what we have on the mound.”
Given the talent on the mound and in the field, Smith and his coaching staff have laid down the gauntlet as who what they expect from their team each time out in terms of goals and expectations for each game as well as the season.
“We’ve set the bar higher than we’ve ever set it,” he said. “It really depends on how badly we want to reach that goal. This team has really gelled together quickly, which helps.”
Off the field, Smith said he has emphasized to his players how much of a privilege it is for them to be playing for and representing the members of the James Leroy Belk Post 17 American Legion.
“We want to thank all our Legionnaires for all they do for us,” Smith said. “Without the members of our Post 17, none of this would be possible. This gives our kids a great opportunity to play baseball for free and gives them plenty of exposure with some college coaches.
“We’re very grateful to our veterans for giving our kids the opportunity to do this.”

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