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Pickoff, sprint-off ... walk-off

Salmond’s mad dash helps L-E stave off elimination with 4-3 win over Flora

Posted: May 7, 2018 2:26 p.m.
Updated: May 8, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

L-E’S J.C. LEGRAND stretches his hand across the plate, ahead of the tag from A.C. Flora catcher Max Childress with the Demons’ first of three runs in the second inning from their 4-3 win over the Falcons in the 4A District VI elimination game.

Randy Stokes hoped for the best. Not even he, however, could have imagined his call working as well as it did.

With Bradwin Salmond on first base after having drawn a two-out fielders’ choice in the bottom of the seventh inning of a 3-3 game in Saturday’s 4A Upper State tournament elimination game with visiting A.C. Flora, Stokes, the Lugoff-Elgin head coach gave the signal for Salmond to try and steal second. Baseball-wise, it was a savvy move given that batter Jake Laffin trailed in the count, 1-2.

Then, however, the Flora plan went haywire.

Seeing Salmond leaning and in the throes of making his move toward second, Falcon pitcher Baker Cox stepped off the mound and fired the ball to his first baseman in an attempt to get Salmond either in a rundown or, diving back to the bag. Cox’s throw, however, ricocheted off his first baseman’s glove and into foul territory along the right field line.

Salmond, who was bolting for second when seeing the move toward first, sped off and never slowed down. With Salmond in a full sprint, L-E third base coach Joe Harvley’s right arm spun like an out of control windmill as Salmond never stopped until sliding safely across home plate with the winning run --- well ahead of an errant throw --- for an improbable ending to a 4-3 Demon victory.

When the dust had finally settled following the mob scene of players and coaches who served as Salmond’s welcoming committee, Stokes said, given the circumstances, his call to send Salmond was the right thing to do. He just never figured on the outcome being what it was.

“We were running on that pitch,” Stokes said. “Jake had two strikes on him so we were going to run.

“Bradwin was breaking (for second.) I knew Joe (Harvley) wasn’t going to hold Bradwin up. We had a chance to win it right there … they had to make a perfect throw to get him.”

The win kept the Demons’ state championship hopes alive as, on Monday, they traveled to meet St. James, which lost to Chapin 4-3, on Saturday, in a second elimination contest for the visitors. The Sharks defeated L-E, 11-6, in Thursday’s opening round pairing. 

The winner of Monday’s contest will advance to the 4A Lower State championship bracket and will travel to Chapin Wednesday at 5 p.m. with either L-E or, St. James, having to beat the hosts twice in order to advance to the best-of-three 4A stat championship series which opens Saturday.

Salmond’s 270-foot sprint made a winner out of Jay Lynch, a senior who came on to start the sixth inning and worked a pair of hit- and run-free frames. Zac Branham got the mound nod for the second straight game after having thrown just 32 pitches in a Thursday start which lasted two-thirds of an inning. The senior was more like himself in Saturday’s matinee.

Branham, a senior right-hander, worked the first five frames, allowing one earned run on four hits, fanning five while throwing 96 pitches before giving way to Lynch in the sixth inning of a 3-3 game.

“Zac gave us a gutsy performance,” Stokes said. “We didn’t have a pitch limit for Zac but when he got to 95 or, somewhere around there, we felt like it would be best for Jay to start the (sixth) inning instead of his coming in the game with people on base.”

Branham was touched for a pair of first inning runs in a two and a half hour game which opened with Will Bethea reaching on a leadoff error and then stealing second. Cox then sent a chopped to the mound which Branham fielded. He spun toward second and spotted Bethea heading for third on the play. Branham began the chase which ended with Bethea being tagged out by shortstop J. C. Legrand for the first out.

A Leighton Long single and Harmon Cox being hit by a pitch loaded the bags for the Falcons who scored runs one and two on back-to-back walks before Branham fanned Max Childress with the bases loaded to avoid even more of a messy situation.

L-E mounted a threat in its first at-bat only for Flora starter Caleb Speedy to come away unscathed as the hosts left runners on first and second. Speed, who has committed to The Citadel, would not be as fortunate in his second inning of work.

With one gone in the home half of the second, Legrand was hit by a Speedy offering. With two away and Legrand still on first, Dalton Reeves drew a walk before the catcher was replaced by courtesy runner Brandon Langford. Branham helped himself at the plate by driving an RBI single to center which put runners on the corners. A balk from Speedy allowed Langford to score the tying run while Branham scored the go-ahead run from second on Justin Dorton’s two-out, two-strike single through the box. 

The RBI single was one of two hits on the afternoon for Dorton who, along with Laffin, had two apiece in a five-hit offensive showing for the hosts.

The 3-2 advantage held up through three frames as both Branham and Speedy worked their way in and out of trouble. The Falcons evened things in the fourth with Phillip Daniels getting aboard when he opened the inning by being hit by a Branham offering. After advancing to second on a wild pitch, Daniels went to third on a Grant Loggins sacrifice bunt before scoring on Baker Cox’s infield single.

The Falcons threatened to regain the lead an inning later.

Harmon Cox opened the fifth with a single to left and wound up on third on an error on the play. With one gone, Wallace Truluck sent a hard bouncer to Legrand at shortstop, who was part of a drawn-in infield. Cox was running on contact as Legrand fired to Reeves, who applied the tag on Cox who, at first, stopped short of the plate while trying to find a way around L-E’s junior backstop.

It was that kind of an afternoon for both Branham and Lynch, neither of whom had a true clean frame. In five innings, Branham had 13 runners on base while Lynch had three in two innings of work. 

In the seventh, Lynch walked Harmon Cox with one out. With two gone and Tanner Bethea being inserted as a pinch-runner at second base, Bethea was caught leading toward third and was tagged out by Legrand after having gotten into a run down following Reeves’ throw from the plate to second.

“Dalton Reeves is playing very well for us,” Stokes said of his team’s junior catcher. “He threw out a couple base runners today and made a great block at the plate and got up to throw a guy out at first (after a third strike pitch hit the dirt.)”

Stokes said both his pitchers had to bear down and concentrate each inning as the Falcons kept applying pressure on the base paths.

“Flora did a very good job of getting their leadoff guy on today. We would either hit him, walk him, he’d get a hit or, something. They did a very good job of that,” Stokes said of the Falcons getting their leading man aboard five times in seven innings. “We kept stressing to Zac and Jay that we needed to get the first guy out. 

“Andy (ACF coach Hallett) does a good job with those guys. They put pressure on you. That’s the way those guys play.”

Still, everything which was done in the first six and two-thirds innings of play led up to Salmond’s memorable game-ending jaunt around the bases.

“Bradwin was out if the first baseman catches that ball,” Stokes said matter-of-factly. “We were just taking a chance there. 

“When you get the last at-bat, you can take chances like that. We were going to take that chance. We had two strikes, two outs and we said, ‘Let’s put people in motion and see what happens.’”

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