Two games into a season is hardly the time to push the panic button. And while he knew where it was located, Tyler Pike was hardly ready to have it constantly by his side.
However, in a 12-game League III American Legion season, an 0-2 start would have put Kershaw County in catch-up mode with more than a week without a game to stew about its predicament.
With that in mind, Pike, the first-year Post 17 head coach, knew the importance of Friday’s home opener with Manning-Santee. In what Pike felt was already in “must win” territory, the hosts rode the arms of Devin Beckley, Will Abbott and Brandon Dow, who were backed by a 15-hit attack in a 14-1 victory at American Legion Park in a game stopped after six and a half innings by the 10-run rule.
The one-sided win evened the opening-week League III series between the two sides at 1-1 with the rubber game set for Camden on June 30.
Following his team’s 5-2 loss to Manning-Santee in Wednesday’s opener, Pike said he did not want to fall two games behind Sumter in the loss column heading into his team’s open week.
“I think, deep down, that I thought it was a must win for us,” Pike said after his first League III victory as the KC bench boss. “I would never tell our kids that and put that much pressure on them but it was good to get a win like this, especially at home.”
In order to get back to even at this early stage of the season, Pike went with Camden High’s All-State pitching duo of Beckley and Abbott, who signed with The Citadel to play baseball last fall.
Beckley picked up where he left off in a 7-1 high school campaign by throwing five innings of two-hit ball in which he fanned eight Post 68 batters while allowing an unearned run in the fourth which made it a 6-1 ballgame. Abbott came on in the sixth and issued a two-out walk while working to four batters. Dow, Camden’s number three starter the past two seasons, worked a scoreless seventh, allowing a two-out walk to Jake Jordan before Dalton Page followed with an infield single. A Del Magaw fly ball to Beckley at first put an early end to the night.
M-S head coach Spencer Jordan said his offense ran into a buzzsaw, especially with the Beckley-Abbott combination.
“The first two young men who pitched for them were outstanding pitchers,” Jordan said after his team saw their record evened at 1-1. “We have to give all the credit in the world to them. What a tremendous 1-2 punch they are for them.”
Post 68 entered the game short-handed with four starters missing from the lineup due to commencement exercises on Friday evening. The hosts were minus two starters including Josh Hernandez, a South Carolina Select Team choice, who graduated from A.C. Flora on Friday. That led to Pike having to make some adjustments to a lineup which received contributions up and down the order as well as in the field in a one-error performance.
The visitors sent out Jake Jordan, who was brought up from their junior Legion team, to start the game on the mound and the right-hander was hit up for a pair of runs in the bottom of the first as Christian Flick smacked a two-out, two-run double to center scoring Nick Butler, who drew a leadoff walk and Bradwin Salmond, who had a one-out single to left.
Beckley was staked to a six-run cushion after Post 17 tacked on four runs in the third which opened with a Brock Robinson single. With one gone, Jordan hit Ross Hough with a pitch which led to an RBI single to center from Flick for his third RBI of the contest. After getting Nick Stokes on a fly ball to second for the second out, Jordan gave up a run-scoring single to center off the bat of Beckley. Abbott then made it 6-0 with his two-run single through the box.
“Flick was 3-for-3 with three ribbies (runs batted in) tonight. That was clutch,” Pike said. “Every ball he hit was hit hard and that’s all you can ask for.”
After struggling at the plate on Wednesday, Camden received at least one hit each from all nine starters on Friday which helped ease Pike’s mind.
“It was good to see a nice team effort like this,” he said. “It seemed like everyone chipped in this game. It’s good to see that.”
M-S pushed across its lone run in the fourth which started with William Ard drawing a leadoff walk. Ard then strayed too far off first base and was caught in a rundown only to see Flick’s throw from the catcher position sail into center field as Ard landed safely on second. A Buddy Bleasdale ground ball for the second out advanced Ard to third. Ard then scored on a wild pitch.
With 10 days off following this game and Beckley having carried a heavy load in high school baseball, Pike took the right-hander out after five innings of work in order to get Abbott an inning on the mound before closing the shortened contest with Dow.
“Devin threw the rock well tonight,” he said. “He threw about 75 pitches which was good. I didn’t want to keep him out there too long. He threw strikes and was getting ahead of the batters. His curveball and, even his changeup was working for him tonight. He did a good job of locating his pitches.”
The hosts put this one out of reach by scoring four more runs in the fifth.
Flick opened the inning with a single to left before stealing second. He would later score on a wild pitch. Beckley got aboard on a one-out fielders’ choice before a walk issued to Abbott closed Jordan’s night after 4.1 innings.
Morgan Morris, who came on for Jordan, was promptly greeted by Cam Holley’s RBI infield single to bring Beckley across with the eighth run. A Butler single to center scored Abbott while Holley made it 10-1 when he came across on Robinson’s sacrifice fly.
An inning later, Post 17 increased its lead into double figures by scoring four runs for the third inning. The big blow was Beckley’s ripping a two-run triple which skirted the third base line before reaching the fence in left. The three-bagger was sandwiched by Stokes’ RBI single to shallow right and an Abbott ground out which scored Beckley.
In addition to his work on the mound, Beckley drove in three runs with two hits while reaching base on each of his four trips to the plate. Also collecting a hit and scoring a run in the sixth was Ross Hough, who sat out this past spring as a redshirt freshman at Erskine. While expecting to play a large role in the 17ers’ mound corps, Hough played left field on Friday. His hard-hit single to left was an added bonus, Pike said.
“With the lack of players we had out here today,” Pike said, “I asked Ross if he was willing to play (in the field) which he said he was. Ross is such a great athlete. It took him a couple swings to get back in the flow of things but you saw him get more and more comfortable as the game went on.”
While Pike was worried about a possible 0-2 start to the League III campaign, Jordan said he will take a 1-1 start given his team being short-handed on Friday.
“I wish we could have given them a better game tonight,” he said. “I know we play series baseball in (League III) and we play everybody three times. Hopefully, we’ll have everybody back and we’ll be at full speed when we play them again in several weeks and we’ll see where the chips fall at that time.”
Keeping POSTed: Due to injuries, one player quitting, graduation and other commitments, the 17ers dressed out 13 healthy players on Friday ... Pike was also down two coaches as assistants Stephen Carmon and Jack LaFrage were both attending a wedding. That being the case, one of the injured KC players, Josh Boone, handled the first base coaching duties ... ... Robinson, a USC-Lancaster signee who played mainly at second base at Lugoff-Elgin, filled in ad was flawless at shortstop making good on all four of his chances in the field ... Post 17 has this week off and will next play when Dalzell-Shaw comes to town on Monday, June 6. Pike said he will give his team three or four days off before returning to practice. “We’ve gone hard for about eight or nine days in a row,” he said. “I think a couple days off will be good for the boys; we’ll come back fresh and with a lot of energy.”