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Branham locks Dogs down on one-hitter in 5-1 L-E win

Posted: April 5, 2018 9:32 a.m.
Updated: April 6, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

CAMDEN CATCHER BRADY WHITE shows the ball to the home plate umpire who ruled L-E baserunner Hunter Coleman safe after a bang-bang play which provided the Demons with a 1-0 lead in Wednesday’s Kershaw-Richland tournament game played at American Legion Park.

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A mess of a first inning by the Camden defense gave way to a Zac Branham masterpiece as Lugoff-Elgin took the Kershaw County portion of the Kershaw-Richland wooden bat tournament with a 5-1 win over the host Bulldogs Wednesday night at American Legion Park.

Not only did the victory propel the Demons (14-4) into Thursday’s title game, it also gave Randy Stokes’ troops the upper hand against their cross-river rivals by taking the season series, 2-1. The loss dropped Camden (5-12) into the fifth-place game in the eight-team event.

Defensive issues, which have plagued Camden throughout the season, reared their ugly head early in this pairing. The Dogs committed four errors in a top of the first which paved the way for all five L-E runs which was plenty for Branham.

Branham, a right-hander who has signed with Florence-Darlington Tech, carried a perfect game into the fifth only for Tate Abbott to line a leadoff single into left field for the Dogs’ only hit of the night. Abbott later scored to snap the shutout bid thanks to the lone Demon error of the evening.

As for Branham, he faced just 22 batters in a complete game gem in which he threw only 73 pitches. He fanned eight and did not issue a walk.

“(Branham) was unbelievable out there. He is really good,” said CHS head coach Denny Beckley. “We had one hit and two base runners and we scored a run with those minimal opportunities so, I was pleased with that. It was a really, really impressive performance by Zac.”

Camden junior Bennett Caldwell was forced to take a back seat to Branham’s performance on a night in which he only allowed three hits while striking out two batters and issuing a walk in six innings of work. On most other nights, the righty comes away with a win. This was not such an occasion as the Dogs committed five errors behind him.

“I thought Bennett was good. He got better as the game went on,” said Stokes. “He started throwing his breaking ball for a strike. Anytime you have a kid who can throw and locate two pitches, you give yourself a chance.”

Camden’s opportunity to take the series all but went by the boards as the Demons sent eight men to the plate in a top of the first inning which opened with Branham reaching on a two-base throwing error after hitting an infield chopper. When the throw to try and get Branham at second went astray, he landed on third before being replaced there by courtesy runner Hunter Coleman.

Noah Rabon followed by drawing a walk before getting caught leaning off first base as he found himself in a rundown. On the play, Coleman broke for home and was called safe at the plate as the Demons took a quick 1-0 lead. The first of two hits in the five-run uprising was supplied by Bradwin Salmond whose single sent Rabon to third. Jake Laffin then followed with a squibber between the plate and third base which went for a 30-foot single which drove in Rabon.

An error on a Justin Dorton ground ball allowed Salmond to come in with the third run. A Josh Boone sacrifice fly to right scored Laffin before Dorton made it 5-0 when he crossed the dish on a wild pitch.

Rather than chastise his young team, Beckley kept a positive approach which his players responded to after the first frame.

“It’s really unfortunate,” he said. “A lot of the plays that happened were physical errors, not mental errors. I felt Bennett did an unbelievable job of not getting down, moping, pouting and having bad body language and just scrapping … our whole team did.

“I tried to focus on body language. We weren’t going to come in and fight the wall, the cooler and the helmets. We were going to fight the game of baseball. We have a couple guys that that is an issue for them. They carry the negativity that happens in the game with them to the plate or, to the field. I thought our guys learned some things about themselves tonight in that aspect of the game.”

What Camden could not control was Branham’s dominance. He struck out two batters in each of the third and fourth innings while pitching with a five-run cushion.

“That’s our Zac,” Stokes said of Branham. “He did what he does every night for us. Zac competes his tail off and is a strike-throwing machine. I didn’t expect anything different from him.”

The only turbulence Branham experienced came in the fifth which started with Abbott’s single. After moving to second on a ground out, Abbott took third on a wild pitch before scoring when Holden Bunch’s ground ball was played into an error. Branham proceeded to get an inning-ending double play befor setting down the final seven batters he faced.

Meanwhile, Caldwell worked his way out of a third inning jam in which L-E left runners on second and third. Caldwell worked 1-2-3 innings in the even-numbered frames before giving way to Bunch in the seventh. The 6-foot-6 junior lefty, who was making his first mound appearance this season after having dealt with a labrum injury, faced just three batters in his 2018 debut.

Laffin had two of L-E’s three hits as the Demons ran their win streak to four. Even after jumping to a quick lead, Stokes said his team never lost focus.

“They’re a hard group to read. They just go about their business,” he said. “There’s not a lot of emotion in our dugout; it doesn’t matter whether they’re winning or, losing 5-0, they just go about their business.”


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