(Editor’s note: Post 17 will host the loser of Friday’s League 8 game between Aiken and West Columbia, which will decide second and third place in that circuit, in Tuesday’s opening game of the best-of-five state American Legion playoffs. First pitch at American Legion Park in Camden on Tuesday is set for 7 p.m. The best-of-five series rotates between the two sites with the 17ers traveling on Wednesday and home for game three on Thursday. Games four and five, if needed, will be played on Friday and Saturday, if necessary, with the 17ers being at home for game five, if necessary.)
Kershaw County got itself into a mess in the bottom of the ninth and got itself out of trouble in the bottom of the 10th and by doing so saved League III from the possibility of a three-way tie for second place behind Sumter.
After seeing visiting Manning-Santee rally from a 5-2 deficit to knot things at 5-5 with a three-run top of the ninth, KC used John Bailey’s bases loaded walk with no outs in the bottom of the 10th to walk off with a 6-5 victory over Post 68 on Thursday night at American Legion Park.
The victory sewed up second place in League III for Post 17 (7-4) which closes its regular season Friday night against a 5-6 Orangeburg squad which, with a win over KC would finish in third place in the circuit. A Post 17 win would leave Orangeburg and Manning-Santee tied for third place.
As for KC, the last thing which first-year head coach Tyler Pike wanted was for his team to hit the road needing to beat Orangeburg in order to lock up the runner-up spot in League III and not have home field advantage for the first round of the state playoffs which begin next Tuesday.
“This was real important,” Pike said after his team knocked off Post 68 for the second time in three meetings this season. “You don’t want to go down (to Orangeburg) having that type of pressure on one game. This was huge for us. We can go into Orangeburg nice and relaxed and just go out and play baseball.”
Relaxed was definitely not in KC’s vocabulary in the top of the ninth.
Starter Devin Beckley left with a 4-2 lead after seven innings of work in which the right-hander allowed five hits while striking out five. Reliever Bradwin Salmond came on to work a scoreless top of the eighth before being given an extra run to work with after William Cobb hit a leadoff single off Post 68 starter William Ard. Cobb took two bases on an errant pickoff throw to first base before scoring the fifth run on a wild pitch with one gone.
Salmond, however, would not be able to preserve the lead as a combination of four Manning-Santee hits and two walks sent this game into extra innings.
Connor Floyd and Buddy Bleasdale opened the top of the ninth with consecutive singles to left field. A Morgan Morris walk loaded the bases with no out before Salmond got a strikeout. A walk to Braydon Osteen brought Floyd home with the third run. Will Gardner followed with a single to left to plate Bleasdale as the lead was cut to 5-4.
Taylor Lee knotted things at five when he followed with a single to right. With the bases still jammed, Salmond was able to get a pop fly out to catcher Will Abbott for the second out before getting a swinging third strike to prevent Post 68, which left the bags filled, from taking the lead.
Logan Smith, who came on for Ard with one gone in the eighth, worked a scoreless ninth. Salmond regained his composure and allowed a two-out single from Morris but that would be all for the top of the 10th.
Just as Salmond had control issues in the ninth, Smith battled with the same difficulties in the 110th which opened with Abbott drawing a leadoff walk. Smith was then called for a balk when it was ruled that he broke his hands while being judged to be on the mound. Post 68 head coach Spencer Jordan argued the call before both umpires met to discuss the ruling before not budging from the original call of a balk.
“It was a very tough call to make at (that) point in the game, especially when it looked like our pitcher had stepped off,” Jordan said. “That changed the entire complexion of the game with what we had to do and with what KC has to do with that play.
“But I’m not going to blame this on umpires because we had a couple crucial errors. You have to be able to make the routine plays.”
With Abbott on second, Nick Stokes was ahead in the count, 3-1, as Manning-Santee went to Bleasdale in relief of Smith. Bleasdale got Stokes to hit a ground ball to Taylor Lee at shortstop. Abbott was running on the play as Lee threw to third only for his throw, which was in time to get Abbott, to be dropped as KC had runners on the corners with no outs. An intentional walk to Beckley followed which loaded the bases with no outs for Bailey who walked when a full count fastball was called a ball.
“Again,” Jordan said, “you’ve got to make the routine plays to be able to win and we didn’t make them when we had to. KC is a real good team and is coached very well.”
KC scored the game’s first run in the third when Bailey reached on a one-out fielders’ choice and came in on a two-out Josh Hernandez single.
Manning-Santee evened things with a run off Beckley in the fourth as Hunter Robinson sent a sinking line drive to left on which Ross Hough attempted to make a diving catch. Instead, the ball skipped in front of the Post 17 leftfielder with Robinson landing on third with a leadoff triple. He scored on Ard’s sacrifice fly to center.
KC scored three in the fifth in an inning aided by a Post 68 error along with a walk and a hit batsman. An error on Hough’s grounder brought in Bailey, who drew a one-out walk, while Salmond’s two-out single through the box knocked home runs three and four to hike the Post 17 advantage to 4-1.
The guests cut the lead in half in the sixth as Ard rapped a one-out single to left and came around to score from second on Bleasdale’s two-out single to center to make it a 4-2 game.
Manning-Santee, which closed its League III campaign at 5-7, out-hit KC, 10-5. Beckley, who was coming off a four-hit night in Post 17’s win over Dalzell-Shaw last Friday, had two more on Thursday.