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A punch to the gut

17ers lose game, series as Sumter stages improbable two-out rally in top of 7th

Posted: July 23, 2018 1:22 p.m.
Updated: July 24, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

KC’S BRADWIN SALMOND REACHES out to drive this pitch from Sumter’s David Frey for a double in the third inning of Saturday’s 6-4 loss in the fifth and final game of the Midlands Region championship series at American Legion Park.

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Some were perched atop the dugout steps. Others milled around in front of the dugout while other teammates went back to the seats they had occupied inside the dugout earlier in the top of the seventh inning as they waited for the seemingly inevitable. 

In the game of baseball, superstitions run as freely as taps on quarter beer night.

Kershaw County American Legion baseball players were ready to storm the field, pounce on their teammates for a celebratory dogpile which would mark the program’s second state tournament appearance in three years and third in the past five. Then, something went wrong … terribly wrong.

With runners on first and second and Sumter’s Rylan Williamson batting with two gone in the top of the seventh with his team trailing, 4-3, in the fifth and final game of their best-of-five series, Williamson took a hack at a 1-2 pitch in the dirt for strike three, which would have ended the game. But the ball stayed in and rolled out of the dirt  area surrounding home plate as Williamson bolted for first base and just beat catcher Chase Galloway’s throw to first baseman Jake Laffin.

That delayed the Post 17 celebration for a time. Shortly thereafter, it would be all but permanent as Bobby Crisp followed Williamson by sending a two-run single into left field before Joey Pereira added an insurance run with another single to left as the P15s took an improbable 6-4 lead and then, the 6-4 win before a half-stunned, half-cheering crowd --- depending on what baseline you sat alongside --- Saturday afternoon at American Legion Park.

The loss put an end to a 22-8 season for the 17ers who suffered their first home setback in 12 outings. Sumter (20-12) sent the hosts to their first back-to-back losses of the season while advancing to Monday’s first round of the state championship tournament against Coastal Region winner Florence. The four-team event continues Wednesday through Friday at Spirit Communications Park in Columbia.

KC head coach Stephen Carmon has been involved in many a game in his baseball career as a player and coach, which included three seasons of minor league ball in the San Diego Padres’ organization. He could not remember having been a part of a more gut-wrenching loss as  was the case Saturday.

“I’ve had some tough ones in my life,” said the first-year P-17 boss as his players, many of whom still had tears in their eyes passed in front of him, “some of the guys were a little emotional … a little torn up. That happens in a game when you have so much adrenalin … it’s up and down.

“This one, as a coach, is definitely the toughest to take.”

Across the way, Sumter head man and former KC coach Curtis Johnson was almost pinching himself to make sure what he had just witnessed was not a dream. Johnson, a former USC reliever who is in his second stint piloting the P15s, also tipped his cap to his former squad as he searched for the right words to describe what took place moments earlier.

“I’ve talked all series about our kids,” he said of the top of the seventh rally. “They don’t give up. They compete. That’s what they did right there. I’m so proud of these guys. We were down to our last out and we scored three runs. It’s such a great group of guys, they never give up.

“Stephen and those guys do a great job. Their players are so well-coached. I was proud of have played them in this series. They have a great program here.”

A two-run win in what amounted to being seven-game 2018 series between the two rivals amounted to a breather. The first four meetings --- including two in the regular season --- were all decided by one run. KC took a 2-1 series lead with a 9-6 win on Thursday before the P15s sent the series to a final game by outlasting the 17ers, 2-1, in nine innings Friday at Riley Park.

Carmon gave the ball to Bradwin Salmond to start game five. Eight nights earlier, the 6-foot-2 right-hander sealed KC’s opening round series by pitching five innings of scoreless ball in a 10-0 win over visiting Lexington in game five of that pairing.

Salmond went the first six frames on Saturday and left with a 4-3 lead but he also took a tumble beating out an infield single as he stumbled and fell while clipping first base in a two-run bottom of the sixth in which the hosts rallied back from a 3-1 deficit to take a 4-3 lead.

Carmon, who went to first base to check on Salmond, said his starter suffered a case of cramps on the warm afternoon. Salmond stayed in the game and scored the tying run from second when Todd Mattox followed by sending a booming double off the fence in left center. Mattox gave KC the 4-3 lead when he came in on Chase Galloway’s sacrifice fly to center in an inning in which the locals left the bases loaded for the second straight inning and third time on an afternoon in which they left 14 runners on base.

“I just told the guys after the game that I’m not going to sit here and harp on what we did well and what we did wrong,” Carmon said. “We did get the hit when we needed it but, we had chances to put the game more within our reach. Even with that, we had the lead with two outs and two strikes on the batter (in the seventh); we were one strike away from ending the game and we just couldn’t make a play.”

Carmon said that due in part to his cramping, Salmond was not going to return to the mound to start the seventh inning. Instead, Jay Lynch came on in relief for the third time in the series.

Salmond finished his afternoon allowing three runs on eight hits while fanning three batters and walking one.

Lynch got Trey Yates looking before Jacob Holladay sent a soft liner to Mattox at shortstop for two quick outs to open the Sumter seventh. Ryan Moore kept the inning alive with a single to center before a Daulton Dabbs walk brought Williamson to the plate while Jackson Hoshour was called on to run for Dabbs as a pinch-runner. Things went haywire as Williamson got aboard on the third strike passed ball to load the bases. Crisp and Pereira did the rest of the heavy lifting with their base hits which drove in runs four, five and six.

Holladay, who came on for Trent Frye to put out the fire with a base-loaded strikeout in the sixth, hit Josh Boone to open the home half of the seventh. A double-play ball took any wind out of the hosts’ sails as a Mattox walk was followed by Laffin’s liner to Yates in left as it was Sumter which formed a dogpile atop Holladay along the first base line.

With Salmond getting the starting nod, the 17ers seemed to have had a leg up on the P15s in the starting pitching department as Sumter started David Frey, a young lefty of whom Johnson said he had modest expectations. “I wanted him to get through an inning. I just wanted him to get an inning; that was the plan,” Johnson said.

Frey was staked to a 1-0 lead as Sumter pushed a run across in the first as Holladay led off with a single before scoring on a Dabbs one-out bloop single to left. An inning later, the guests made it 2-0 with Yates sending a two-run single to center and scoring from second on Holladay’s double down the right field line.

The 17ers cut the lead in half in the second as William Cobb’s fly ball to second went under the glove of Lathan Todd for an error. A wild pitch and a Frey balk advanced Cobb to third from which he scored on Zac Branham’s one-out single to right which made it 2-1.

Frey was lifted in favor of Frye after having surrendered a Salmond double to open the bottom of the third. Salmond, however, was left on third as Frye got out of the inning unscathed.

Sumter made it a 3-1 game with Chandler Hunter belting a one-out triple which sent Todd circling the bases from first.

KC’s struggles to push runs home started in the second and continued through the fourth in which the 17ers used a pair of walks and an error on a bunt from Frye to load the bases with two outs but were unable to do any damage.

In the fifth, KC scored one time in an inning which featured a pair of defensive gems from a pair of Sumter outfielders.

Laffin hit a rocket to center to start the inning only to have Chandler go Jim Edmonds on Laffin and make a running, diving stab while facing the center field fence. Frye then issued back-to-back walks to Cobb and Galloway before Branham sent an RBI single to left to make it a 3-2 game. With two gone, Frye walked Jaiden Garner to re-load the bases for Josh Boone whose sinking liner to left was stabbed by Yates, whose glove was inches off the grass.

“When we were down, 3-1,” Carmon said, “I told our guys that the only difference was that their guys made a couple plays and they got a couple hits when they needed them. The only difference then was that we hadn’t made those plays and we hadn’t gotten those hits. I told them to keep having faith because we’re too good a team to be held without scoring runs.

“I told our guys to keep working and they did.”

That work paid off in the two-run sixth which started with Salmond’s staying in the game after his single, taking second on a passed ball and scoring on Mattox’s double while Galloway’s sac fly to center gave the hosts the 4-3 lead in an inning which Holladay was summoned to put out the fire which gave the P15s a puncher’s chance in the seventh.

“Sometimes, you catch a break and we caught a break,” Johnson said of the wild scene which would unfold in the top of the seventh. “We hadn’t really caught any breaks all year and we caught a break today.

“I feel that when you do things the right way, when you come to work every day and work at it, things will happen for you at some point and they happened for us.”

“You have to give credit to their guys,” Carmon said of Sumter’s comeback. “They never quit. They battle. That’s how this whole season --- this whole series --- has been with them. They’re never out of it and, they never give up. That’s the sign of a good team.”

Sumter out-hit KC, 11-6. The hosts received three hits and two RBI from Branham while also taking advantage of eight walks; six of which were issued by Frye in his 3.2 innings of relief work.

In seven games with Sumter this season, the 17ers held the upper hand with four wins. In those seven entertaining contests, KC outscored the P15s by a combined 36-34 count.

Those numbers mattered little to Carmon and his team on Saturday following a season in which they sat atop the state American Legion top 10 poll for three weeks.

“It’s tough to reflect on the season right after it’s over, especially when you end your season with a loss and your win one away from getting into the state tournament which, I think, we would have had a real good chance at winning if we would have gotten in it,” Carmon said. “In a week or so, we’ll get over it.

“Sumter beat us three times and we beat them four this year,” he added. “But, they beat us three times when it counted. It’s a tough one to take but, when you look at the big picture, we did have a good season.”

Keeping POSTed: Florence took the fourth and final state in the state tournament by traveling to Goose Creek to defeat Goose Creek/Charleston Saturday afternoon in game four. Had Florence lost that game, state American Legion officials ruled that the two teams would have both traveled to Florence that night to have played a fifth and deciding game … The 22 victories registered by the 17ers were the most in a season since Craig Smith led the 2014 team to 25 wins and into the state tournament in Sumter … In spite of not giving up an earned run Saturday, Lynch was tagged with the loss. It was his first of the season in which he won his first six starts. He also recorded a save in the series … In spite of not having played baseball since the summer of 2016, Cobb led the 17ers with a .388 average. Salmond, who batted .227 last summer for the 17ers, was next at .379 while Mattox, a Blythewood grad in his first season with KC, was third with a .343 average … Individual offensive leaders for the locals were as follows: Hits (Salmond 31), doubles (Laffin 8), triples (Galloway, Boone 2 each), home runs (Galloway, Laffin 2 each), RBI (Galloway 20), stolen bases (Salmond 13) … On the mound, Justin Dorton was 7-0, giving him a two-year 13-0 record. Lynch was next with a 6-1 mark with a save. In his two seasons, he compiled an 11-3 mark. The two cousins --- Dorton and Lynch --- combined for 24 wins against three losses with one save in the 2017 and 2018 campaigns … Individual pitching leaders for the locals were as follows: Wins (Dorton 7), ERA (Salmond .900), saves (Salmond 4), strikeouts (Lynch 35), innings pitched (Branham 44).

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