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Ferguson, CHS offense rise to the occasion

Dogs hold off sixth-ranked Demons, 5-4

Posted: March 8, 2018 4:16 p.m.
Updated: March 9, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

CAMDEN SOPHOMORE SAM FERGUSON delivers a pitch to the plate in his complete game 5-4 win over rival Lugoff-Elgin Wednesday night at Optimist Field.

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Pitching on the biggest stage of his young career, the bright lights hardly seemed to faze Sam Ferguson.

Ferguson, Camden’s sophomore lefty, took the mound to start Wednesday’s regular season opener at rival Lugoff-Elgin and never left in helping the Bulldogs escape Optimist Field with a 5-4 victory in a game in which the hosts were unable to push across the tying and/or winning run after having runners on second and third with one out in the bottom of the seventh.

The win snapped a four-game skid to the 4A Demons (2-2) for Denny Beckley’s troops (2-3) who were shut out in three of their four games in last week’s Pee Dee Preseason Invitational. It also ended a three-game drought against L-E pitching for the visitors who were blanked by a combined 11-0 count in last year’s three-game series.

The story on this chilly night, however, was Ferguson. All he would do in his first varsity start was to hold the state’s sixth-ranked 4A entry to four hits while working his way around seven walks to go along with two strikeouts. He seemed to be at his best under pressure. He worked his way out of a mess in the fifth inning and then pulled off a Houdini-like escape in the seventh.

Ferguson’s opening night, 105-pitch effort played to rave reviews from both his own coach and from L-E head coach Randy Stokes.

“He sure does like to make it interesting,” Beckley said with a smile in alluding to Ferguson’s performance and his team’s near collapse in the final frame. “But our whole team did tonight.

“Sam did a great job of throwing his fastball in, on the inside corner, to their lefties. He got a little tired and Coach (CHS pitching coach Joe) Bowers did a great job of mixing the curveball in toward the end of the game. 

“I was really, really proud of Sam’s effort. He has a chance to be a special pitcher and this will go a long way toward building his confidence.”

Stokes, whose offense did not get a base hit until Walker Branham sent a Texas Leaguer to shallow right with one gone in the fourth, said his batters were unable to draw a bead on Ferguson until Camden had jumped out to a 4-0 lead.

“My hat’s off to Sam. He showed a lot of guts out here tonight,” Stokes said. “He did exactly what he needed to do. You have to be pleased for him.

“We did not make adjustments at the plate tonight. We hit a lot of fly balls … a lot of pop-ups … tonight. We got in the mindset where we tried to get too big and we’ve talked about that after the game. We need to hit the ball on the ground. I just told our guys that some of them are trying to do things that they’re not capable of doing. That’s not our game. Our game is hitting the ball on the ground, get on base, run and use our speed.”

The struggling Camden offense broke from its early season doldrums by collecting 11 hits off the combination of L-E starter Hunter Coleman and Bradwin Salmond. Salmond was called to the mound from his post in center field with two gone in the top of the third and finished out the night.

Salmond, a 6-foot-2- right-hander who is committed to play baseball at Spartanburg Methodist, helped settle the Demons down. He opened by throwing 3.1 innings of scoreless baseball and fanned six batters over that span in which the host chopped the deficit to 4-2 with runs in the fourth and fifth frames.

Camden was able to solve Salmond in the seventh which opened with McKenzie Barrineau sending a leadoff single to right. Brady White then rapped a single to left before Tate Abbott loaded the bases with an opposite field single to right for his third hit of the evening.

Just as it looked like the guests had something going, Salmond got Jake Tanner to hit a comebacker to the mound which glanced off Salmond’s right leg while almost perfectly ricocheting into the glove of catcher Dalton Reeves, who stepped on home plate for the first out. A fly ball out to shortstop J.C. Legrand followed as the Demons looked to come out unscathed. But with two gone, designated hitter Bennett Caldwell sent a seeing-eye single into center field to plate courtesy runner Zane Cook with the fifth run to give the Dogs a 5-2 advantage heading into the final half inning.

Caldwell was one of four CHS players to have a multi-hit night. His RBI single in the seventh almost went overlooked in the excitement which would ensue after a top of the seventh in which Beckley admitted giving thought to trying to play small ball with the second half of his order coming up.

“I’m not a squeeze guy, by any stretch,” he said, “but I was thinking about squeezing with one out and ended up not doing it because the guy we had at the plate was not as good of a bunter as I would normally have wanted in that situation. We just went with it and then, Bennett gets a big two-out hit.”

Camden would not know how big Caldwell’s single was until a few minutes later.

After trailing 0-2 in the count to open the home portion of the seventh, Josh Boone worked his way to a leadoff walk to bring the top of the order to the plate for the Demons. Legrand followed with a blooper behind first base which could not be fielded as the hosts quickly had men on first and second with no outs. Zac Branham kept things going by lining an RBI single to left to make it 5-3 with L-E having runners on first and second, still, with no outs.

Following a Salmond pop out to left, Noah Rabon brought Legrand home when his ground ball went through into left field on an error. Branham landed on third base on the two-base fielding miscue which put Rabon at second and sent Bowers to the mound to try and settle down Ferguson, who was clinging to a 5-4 lead.

Beckley, whose pitching staff has been thinned by injury and players who decided not to come out for the team, said he gave thought to replacing Ferguson but thought better of his limited mound options. He later said he was “very” close to bringing in a reliever.

“It was probably a situation where the injuries to our pitching staff made us stick with him,” Beckley said of the non-move. “We were warming up Campbell Jordan, who has not pitched a lot for us. We wanted to see if Sam could win it and, lo and behold, he did.”

Ferguson finished strong getting a fly ball to Barrineau at first base and a pop fly to Tanner, who went into shall left from his shortstop post, to end the threat and the game.

Beckley, whose lineup included one senior, said his team’s youthfulness started to show in the final frame after six solid innings to start the night.

“I am really, really proud of our guys. I think we learned a lot about ourselves tonight,” he said. “Baseball is a game of fundamentals and if you do the little things right, you are going to be able to compete every day. We showed our youth at the end of the game when we got a little nervous. It looked like we were thinking, ‘Hey, let’s not screw this thing up.’ We almost did instead of staying even-keeled.”

Camden gave Ferguson an early run by using a Barrineau double to the gap in right center and a one-out Abbott single to center to take a 1-0 lead after the first half inning of play.

The visitors tacked on three more runs in a third frame which was kick-started by Barrineau reaching on a fielders’ choice. With one gone, White went the other way for a single to right before Abbott lined an RBI double to right center to make it 2-0. Ferguson would help his cause with a run-scoring infield single before Caldwell laced an RBI single to center to make it 4-0 while bringing Coleman’s mound stint to a close.

Beckley said his team needed to get off to a good start, especially at the plate. Camden was aggressive against both Coleman and Salmond and did not want to have to work from behind in the count against either righty.

“We’ve really been working a lot on having a plan when we go to the plate. I thought our guys did a good job of being aggressive, having a plan and looking for a pitch that they could hit,” he said. 

Salmond put out the fire in the third with a strikeout as Camden left two runners stranded on a night in which they would leave nine runners on base.

L-E got to Ferguson for an unearned run in the fourth as Salmond was hit by a pitch, went to second on Walker Branham’s single, stole third and scored when he just beat a diving White to the plate as the CHS catcher fielded a wild pitch which landed just a few feet away from the plate.

The Demons added another run in the fifth in what could have been a bigger inning for the hosts.

Jake Laffin worked his way for a leadoff walk before Boone doubled to left center to put runners on second and third with no outs. A Legrand sacrifice fly to Matthew Cassidy in center plated Laffin to cut the deficit in half at 4-2. With two gone and with runners on the corners and Rabon, the cleanup batter at the plate, Salmond broke for second as Ferguson stepped off the mound to look Salmond back. Boone then made a move for home as Ferguson flipped the ball to White, who chased the runner back toward third before applying the tag for the final out of the inning.

That series of events, Stokes later said when asked, was not a called play from the dugout. It was one of many miscues for the Demons’ offens, he said.

“We made several base running mistakes tonight and we also missed several signs,” he said. “We were trying to do some small ball stuff in the middle innings and we missed some signs that hurt us. I don’t know that it was the reason we lost this game but, it took away more chances for us to score if we could have gotten some bunts down.

“Our guys have the green light to bunt at any time. We didn’t take advantage of that tonight and, we talked about that with them (after the game.)”

The two rivals came into this pairing from opposite directions. The Demons faced top-heavy competition in the Natur Chem tourney last week and more then held their own against some of the toughest squads in the state. L-E knocked off Wren and Sumter while dropping a 4-1 decision to Lexington in the three-day event staged in Lexington County.

Losing a game like this, at this early stage of the season, was not the worst thing that Stokes said could happen to his team. In the same breath though, he said, learning a lesson from a win is easier than doing the same following a loss.

“I told our kids that this might have been a good thing for us,” he said of the loss. “Sometimes, you get satisfied with yourselves, a little bit. Getting beat brings you back to earth, a little bit. 

“There’s a lot of hurting kids over there. I’m going to see how they respond to this tomorrow in practice.”

Beckley, whose offense was held to three or fewer hits in their three losses in the Pee Dee event and had a total of 15 in their four games, erupted for 11 on Wednesday with Abbott collecting three while Barrineau, White --- who precede the cleanup hitter, Abbott,  in the order --- and Caldwell each had two-hit nights.

Beckley said his team put everything together on Wednesday and came into the contest with right mindset.

“It’s not like we’re re-inventing the game. This game has been around for a long time,” he said. “Our guys just had a good approach to the game tonight. I thought our guys’ mental focus was as good as it has been in a long time tonight and we played like that.”

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