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17ers break out the brooms in sweeping pair from Lexington

Eight-run fourth seals deal in nightcap

Posted: June 14, 2018 9:38 a.m.
Updated: June 15, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

JAKE LAFFIN DRIVES a first inning single in the opening game of Post 17’s sweep of visiting Lexington on Tuesday. The 2018 4A All-State selection collected six hits in eight at-bats in the doubleheader.

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When he last toed the rubber at American Legion Park, Spencer Wood pitched a no-hit shutout for Gray Collegiate Academy against Camden High on the final day of the Kershaw-Richland Wooden Bat Tournament in April.

Tuesday night, not so much.

Kershaw County Post 17 broke a 2-2 tie with visiting Lexington by knocking Wood around and out in an eight-run third inning explosion which led to a 10-5 win in the second game of a League III American Legion doubleheader played at American Legion Park.

The 17ers won the opener (see story on Page 7), 8-3, to improve to 4-1 in league play. The two losses left the Grizzlies at 2-2.

KC’s third inning rally was interrupted by a 45-minute delay in which the field lights went out; first two banks and then all the arcs. Combined with the long bottom of the third, P-17 starter Holden Bunch sat on the bench for more than an hour between leaving the mound after the top half of the third and returning to start the fourth in a five-inning contest. The first game went the entire seven frames.

Bunch, a 6-foot-5 lefty who allowed two runs on one hit while walking three and striking out the side in the top of the first, went 3.2 innings to pick up his first American Legion win. He finished with seven strikeouts, six walks and gave up three hits.

First-year KC head coach Stephen Carmon joked with pitching coach Ross Hough about hoping that the long rest may have solved Bunch’s control problems when he went back out to start the fourth inning.

“I looked at Ross and said, ‘Well, he was wild already so, maybe after the long delay, he’ll come out throwing a bunch of strikes,’” Carmon said. “He did a good job, though. I’m proud of Holden.”

In an uneven top of the first, Bunch fanned Walker McDowell to start the game before allowing, in succession, a single and three consecutive walks with a passed ball mixed in as the Grizzlies took a 2-0 lead. The guests had runners on second and third before Bunch got Cameron Cribb and Zack Smith to go down swinging to minimize the damage.

In his 102-pitch stint, Bunch worked with 11 men on base with only three crossing the plate. Carmon said the rising senior at Camden High was able to bear down when he needed to.

“Bunch is such a good kid … it drives him crazy that he can’t be more consistent and throw more strikes. He knows, more than anybody, that if he throws strikes, he’s going to get people out,” Carmon said. “He’s a tall lefty and his arm is way out in front of the mound and it’s closer to the batter. He also has a lot of late life on his fastball.

“I told Bunch after the game that he had seven walks and only gave up three runs. He had a lot of base runners and when people got on base, he did a good job of getting out of trouble and only allowing a run here and there.”

Wood was tagged for his first run allowed in two starts in Camden in the top of the first as Jake Laffin, who had two hits in the nightcap after collecting four in the opener, sent a two-out double to right center. He scored with Noah Rabon followed with the first of his three RBI singles in the game.

The hosts scored the equalizer in the second as Chris Rivers ripped a one-out single to left and sped around the bags when Brady White unloaded on the first of his two doubles to the fence in left center in as many innings. 

An inning later, the hosts blew the roof off the building, along with turning out the lights.

Wood walked Zac Branham to open the third. A Laffin double, which lined off the third base bag, put runners on second and third as two banks of lights went out with Rabon coming to the plate. Some 45 minutes later, Rabon stepped back into the batter’s box and sent an opposite field flare, which landed just inside the right field foul line, to bring in Branham while Laffin ended up on third on the single.

A Chase Galloway single plated Laffin with the fourth run. Wood then plunked Justin Dorton to load the bases with no outs for Rivers, whose walk brought in the fifth run. White closed the book on Wood’s mound stint by sending another two-base gapper to left center which knocked in Galloway and Dorton with runs six and seven.

Jac Crouch came on for Wood and got Josh Boone to ground to second for the first out while Rivers scored on the play. A wild pitch brought Hunter Coleman, who was running for White, in with the ninth run. A Bradwin Salmond walk and a Branham single re-loaded the bags for Rabon who sent at RBI liner through the box to hike the lead to 10-2.

When the dust finally settled in an extended third inning, the locals had scored eight times on six hits, while using three walks and a hit batsman to do their damage.

Lexington chased Bunch from the mound in favor of Coleman with a run in the fourth before tacking on a pair of unearned runs in the fifth to close the gap to 10-5.

Seven batters had at least one hit in the abbreviated game in which the 17ers collected 11 with Rabon’s three-hit, three-RBI performance leading the way. White had a pair of doubles, driving in three runs, in three trips to the plate while the white-hot Laffin had two doubles in three trips.

The offensive breakout was in stark contrast to two weeks earlier when KC had its difficulties at the plate in winning two of its first three League III games after having scored runs by the bushel in winning the Florence Post 1 Invitational over the Memorial Day weekend.

With no games last week, Carmon said his team focused on getting their batting eye back in the batting cage.

“We’ve had a couple good practices,” he said. “I got into the guys a little after that Dalzell game (a 7-5 KC win.) Hopefully, it woke them up, a little bit.

“We’ve sped up our BP and we are trying to get the guys to just find the barrel (of the bat.) I tell them all the time to find the barrel and wherever it goes, it goes. They’re buying into that and they’ve got their confidence back now.”

Lexington came to town ranked fifth in the state American Legion rankings while Post 17 was ninth in that same poll.  The Grizzlies’ roster features seven players who played in college this past spring with 10 others who have signed to play college baseball. 

The sweep of the twinbill left KC a half-game back of League III-leading Sumter (5-1) with a 4-1 record. The two sides played a two-night wraparound home and home series which began Wednesday at Riley Park.

“It’s always good to get league wins especially to get a sweep against the leader in the league and the number five team in the state. That’s big time,” Carmon said. “We still have two big games starting (Wednesday) with Sumter. We have to show up there and make these two wins worth something so we can go out and take something from Sumter.”

Keeping POSTed: Laffin entered the doubleheader batting .444. By the time he walked off the field Tuesday night, he had raised his average 94 points to a team-best .538 with 14 hits in 26 at-bats … The 17ers, who are batting .315 as a team, have seven everyday players batting over .300 and two --- Laffin, and Todd Mattox (.450) --- over .400 … Mattox, the team’s starting shortstop, was unavailable Tuesday and was expected to be back for the Sumter series. In his place, Salmond started at shortstop in game one and Branham was there for the nightcap … Also not in uniform Tuesday were starting outfielder Jaiden Garner, first baseman Wynston Dyer and pitcher Sam Ferguson … A welcome face in the dugout was that of P-17er Cam Holley, whose left arm was in a sling after having undergone season-ending labrum surgery. Tuesday was Holley’s first time seeing his teammates in action following the scheduled procedure ... Among those taking in Tuesday’s games were Sumter P-15 head coach Curtis Johnson and his assistant coach and former Sumter boss, Wallie Jones, who sat behind home plate charting each at-bat for both teams. Also in attendance was former P-17 and Lugoff-Elgin standout Eddie Tisdale who has gotten out of coaching --- he was the head coach at York High School for four years --- and is now the South Carolina scouting director for Prep Baseball Report … KC was expected to send Branham to the mound in Wednesday’s game at Riley Park against Sumter ace Lathan Todd. Carmon said Jay Lynch (2-0) was his probable Thursday night starter while Johnson said, between games Tuesday, that he was still undecided as who would get the starting nod in game two.

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