When it is the second week of July and you are still playing American Legion baseball, you get into “who’s next” territory as to who will be your next opponent.
For Kershaw County, it has gotten to the “who cares” category when it comes to its second round state playoff foe.
Post 17 played its way out of the first round of the post-season for the first time since 2011 by completing a methodical three-game sweep of visiting Horry County with an 8-1 win over Post 111 Wednesday night at American Legion Park.
Grayson King closed the deal with a complete-game four-hitter. The 2013 North Central graduate, who was a redshirt freshman at Francis Marion University this past season, allowed an unearned run in the third inning. He fanned six and walked just a pair in helping the locals advance to Monday’s second round best-of-five series.
Just who the 17ers will face in round two was still up in the air as Georgetown and Goose Creek were scheduled to play game four of their first round series in Georgetown on Thursday night with the host team holding a 2-1 edge over the League I champions following an 11-1 victory on Wednesday.
As his team was running their post-game sprints in the left field grass Wednesday night, a beaming P-17 head coach, Craig Smith, said at this time of the year, you don’t care who is next up. All he knows that his squad is on a roll --- with five straight wins --- and ready for whoever comes their way.
“We don’t care,” Smith answered when asked if he had a preference as to who his team faces next week. “We’ll play the (Atlanta) Braves if they want to play. We might not win that series, but we’re just happy that we were able to win this series in three.
“We’ll enjoy this for about a day or so and then, we’ll turn our focus to either Georgetown or Goose Creek. We have no preference as to either team.”
King’s masterful outing was the capper for a KC mound corps which had Zac Bowers work 8.1 innings in Monday’s 11-2 victory before Grey Hoke threw seven strong frames before Tyler Bowers came in for the two-inning save on Tuesday in a 4-3 victory.
After a rough two-inning patch in the field in game one, the 17ers were solid on defense on Tuesday while committing one error in the finale which did not play a role in the lone Post 111 run. While pitching, defense and hitting have been the hallmarks for KC, Smith said one area which is often overlooked has been the two players who don the mask and equipment each night out.
“We’ve talked a lot about our pitching staff going out there and doing their job and our position guys defending behind them,” he said. “But we don’t give enough credit to our catchers: Austin Hayes and Christian Flick do a great job behind the plate for us.
“Austin had a huge hit for us (Tuesday) night, a three RBI double. And Christian is like a wall back there and, he swings the bat well. Those guys deserve a lot of credit for our success because as good as our pitching staff can be, our catchers are just as good behind the plate.”
The hosts could have easily put this one out of reach in the opening two frames, but had just two first inning runs and six men left on base to show for it against Horry County starter Dillon Johnson who was tagged by Russ Radcliff for a leadoff single in the first before walking Blake Serpas. After Radcliff was forced at third base on a Tyler Bowers fielders’ choice Gunner Smith laced an RBI single to left. With two gone and men on first and second, Johnson issued consecutive walks to Lawson Stokes and Flick, the latter plating Bowers with the second run.
That would be the extent of the first inning damage as Johnson worked his way out of that jam and then, did not allow a run in the second after the 17ers loaded the bags with two outs with two walks and a Post 111 error.
“We stacked up the bases in the first two innings and couldn’t get them in,” Smith said. “We didn’t know if the rest of the night was going to go like that and then, we’d look back in the seventh or eighth inning and think that those were missed opportunities.
“We should have scored more runs than we did but our approach was pretty good tonight; I have no complaints about our approach at the plate. They made a couple of errors that helped us and walks really helped us. Both their guys had trouble locating tonight.”
After the guests scored an unearned run in the third, KC answered with a pair in the home half of the inning. Stokes led off by drawing his second of four walks on the night before being bunted over to second by Flick. A two-base throwing error on a Hayes grounder to shortstop brought Stokes around from second before Radcliff’s two-out single to left plated Hayes with the fourth run.
An inning later, Tyler Bowers started a two-run rally by going up the middle with a leadoff single. After Gunner Smith sacrificed Bowers to second with a bunt, Bradwin Salmond singled to put runners on the corners. Bowers scored on a balk, which moved Salmond to second. Salmond made it 6-1 when he scored on a wild pitch.
By now, King was in cruise control as he allowed just one hit over his final five and two-thirds inning of work. He was aided by an inning-ending double play in the fifth which he started after fielding a Buck Bacot comebacker.
“Grayson was on all night,” Craig Smith said. “He was pounding the zone and pitched within himself … I’m just so proud of that kid.”
Post 17 put this one out of reach with a pair in the sixth off Horry County reliever Hunter Todd, the second lefty the guests sent to the mound.
Todd was rudely greeted by three consecutive singles off the bats of Serpas, Tyler Bowers and Gunner Smith with Smith’s single to left bringing Serpas home with the seventh run. Bowers came in with the evening’s final run when Todd let fly with a wild pitch.
Offensively, KC collected eight hits with Radcliff, Tyler Bowers and Gunner Smith having a pair each. Johnson and Todd combined to issue nine walks, giving Post 111 21 free passes in its two games in Camden.
“Our guys showed good patience at the plate. They had pretty good pitch selection, for the most part. We took what they gave us,” Craig Smith said of his team’s offense.
“I thought that our defense played well tonight. We played clean defense on the infield. The results are exactly what we expect when our pitchers throw strikes, our defense plays clean behind them and we have a good approach at the plate.”
Smith said it was “huge” to close Horry County out in three games and get some rest before starting round two as the locals try to earn their first trip to the state tournament in some 40 years. The KC boss then took time to thank members of the James Leroy Belk American Legion Post 17 for their service to our country and for all they do for the local program.
“It’s an honor to coach for the American Legion guys in our post,” he said. “These guys come out to the field every night and work the concession stand and work the gate. They are great guys and enough can’t be said about them. They give up a lot of their summer to be down there and it’s because of these kids.
“Legion doesn’t make money off this. They do it for the kids in our community and we hope that we’re making (Lugoff-Elgin baseball coach) Randy (Stokes), (Camden baseball coach) Denny (Beckley) and (North Central baseball coach) Robbie’s (Cash) kids better. We keep this team within the county where, we could have easily gone into other counties to get players. But we want to help these guys become better players for our high schools and our coaches.”
Keeping POSTed: Post 17 has two chances to make the South Carolina State American Legion Tournament, which begins on Saturday, July 26 at Riley Park in Sumter. Should the locals win their second round series, they go in automatically. Lose the second round playoff series and they, along with the losers of the other two Lower State series, will be in a three-team, single-elimination event next weekend to lock down the fourth and final slot … In spite of hosting the state tournament, Sumter does not get an automatic bid as has, traditionally, been the case. Since Riley Park has signed on to host the event for the next several years, the automatic qualifier has been taken away from Post 15 … The Post 17 Junior American Legion team, coached by Brandon Faulkenberry and Rusty Lynch, moved into the second round of its state playoffs by defeating South Florence Gold in three games with the locals winning the final game of the best-of-three series, 6-5, on Wednesday in Florence. The Junior 17ers won games one and three to advance into next week’s second round in which the locals will head back to Florence to meet South Florence Blue at 6:30 p.m. Monday.