Denny Beckley could not shake the pessimistic feeling which consumed him as the Camden head baseball coach watched his team take a quick 1-0 lead which grew to 3-0 on a rainy Friday night against visiting Region 4-AAA foe Fairfield Central.
Call it opening night jitters for the Bulldog boss whose team was playing its conference opener against a Griffins squad which returned most of its starters from a season ago while sending junior ace Jacob McManus to the mound.
It was not until Camden (3-3, 1-0 in 4-AAA) pushed seven runs across in the bottom of the sixth to put an early end to a 10-0 victory at waterlogged American Legion Park that Beckley was able to smile … and, exhale.
Camden senior lefty Holden Bunch provided a security blanket for the hosts as he went the distance, allowing a pair of hits, fanning 10 batters and walking four in a 96-pitch effort. In the first four innings, the Charleston Southern signee set down the first two batters he faced only to leave the door open for a batter before getting the third out.
That open entryway left a pit in Beckley’s gut.
“He didn’t have a whole lot of clean innings; it seemed like the first two outs came easy, almost all night long, and then, they had guys get on base with two outs in four of the six innings,” Beckley said of Bunch’s night.
“I was still really nervous. With the wet conditions, you never know when a pitcher might lose his feel. I just never really felt comfortable with the situations tonight. They’re such a scrappy team that can run the bases well. You give them a free pass with a two-out walk and, it just gets frustrating. Luckily, Holden wasn’t frustrated. He was relaxed and ended up coming through and pitching really well for us.”
The 6-foot-6 Bunch was backed by a five-hit offense on a night in which the hosts were beneficiaries of seven walks, two hit batters and four FC errors.
Camden manufactured the winning run in the bottom of the first with some help along the way as McManus walked leadoff man Bryce Jeffcoat. McKenzie Barrineau was then called on to bunt Jeffcoat over to second. McManus bounded off the mound, fielded the ball cleanly only to send an errant throw to the first base bag allowing Jeffcoat to pull up at third base while Barrineau landed on second on the two-base error.
One batter later, Tate Abbott sent a sacrifice fly to left as Jeffcoat tagged up and came home on the play with the game’s first run.
Getting on the board early little did settle Beckley’s nerves a tad.
“I thought that was key. I really did,” he said. “I almost felt like it was almost a breath of fresh air, just from getting that first run.”
The Dogs missed another scoring opportunity in the third as, with the bases loaded with one gone, McManus picked off the runner at first for the second out before getting a foul ball pop fly to escape without sustaining further damage.
All the while, Bunch was calmly going about his business as he fanned two batters in each of the first three frames, only allowing a runner to advance past first --- on a two-out Montavious Thompson double with two gone in the third frame. An inning later, Bunch struck out the side, getting the final two batters looking to preserve the one-run lead.
“When Holden follows through on his delivery,” Beckley said, “there is a difference in his pitches. We are looking at it from a side angle in the dugout, but he must really be deceptive because he doesn’t appear to be throwing that hard. He is just so tall and rangy that his ball jumps on guys and they have a difficult time picking it up.”
Having only gotten to McManus for a one-out Abbott infield single in the third for its first hit, Camden doubled that in a two-run fourth which opened with Sam Ferguson driving a leadoff double to left . Bunch then legged out what was to have been a sacrifice bunt which turned into a single.
With Jacob Jordan running for the CHS pitcher and with Ferguson on third, McManus sent another wide throw on a pickoff attempt to first as Ferguson trotted home while Jordan moved to second. Zane Cook was then called on to bunt, still with no outs, and when second baseman Taylor Truesdale --- covering first base --- could not handle McManus’ throw to the bag, it allowed Jordan to come around from third, sliding through the mud and into home with the third run.
“Luckily, we stayed the course, put the ball in play and made them make some mistakes,” Beckley said of a fourth inning which came after his team was unable to push across a run in the third. “The floodgates opened, literally, after that.”
With a driving rain descending on the Ehrenclou Drive facility, Camden was not totally out of the woods.
With one out in the fifth, Shykeim Holmes singled to left. With two gone and Holmes at second, an error on a Thompson grounder had Holmes heading and rounding around third only to stray too far from the bag. He was gunned down trying to return to third on the throw from shortstop Jake Tanner to Cook at third, who applied the tag on Holmes.
An inning later, still holding to a 3-0 lead, a leadoff error on a Chris Simmons ground ball seemingly put the Griffins in business. The open sign was closed when Ferguson went airborne to make a diving stab of Keion Trapp’s sinking liner to the gap in right center which had extra bases written all over it. Ferguson picked himself up after making the grab and sent a throw from his right field post to double off Simmons at first base to put the end to the visitors’ second and final scoring threat.
“If Sam doesn’t make that unbelievable catch,” Beckley said, “it’s probably a triple and it’s a 3-1 game with no outs. That was a key turning point in this game. Kudos to Sam; what a great catch.
“I was extremely frustrated, though. I felt like we were being very nonchalant. We had a couple guys with bad body language who were being selfish with some bad at-bats. I was very concerned about that.”
With Bunch at 96 pitches after six and with McManus approaching the 110-pitch limit which is the maximum for a seven inning game, Camden was able to string together a seven-run bottom of the sixth to bright a soggy night to an early ending.
With one gone, Cook got aboard and went to second on a two-base error. After advancing to third on a wild pitch, Cook came in on Tanner’s one-out single to center. Tanner swiped second and went to third when Robert Spring got on with a passed ball third strike before hustling into second on the play.
Jeffcoat went the opposite way with a two-run single to right on which he landed on second base in what was McManus’ final batter before giving way to Holmes who issued consecutive walks to Barrineau and Abbott. Jeffcoat would make it 7-0, scoring on a wild pitch as Holmes was relieved by Jalen Jackson.
Jackson promptly walked Brady White to re-load the bases before issuing another walk to Ferguson to plate the eighth run. A two-base error on a Bunch ground ball to second allowed runs nine and 10 to come home as the 10-run rule was invoked.
Later, in his office, Beckley talked about never feeling good about his team’s circumstances, even after having a 3-0 lead going into the bottom of the sixth.
“I was really, really frustrated because I felt like our team thought that the game was over and, there was no way it was, at that point,” he said.
Camden played the game minus starting outfielders Matthew Cassidy (back) and Bennett Caldwell (flu.) Both players were in the dugout on Friday and are expected back in uniform this week which will help with the Bulldogs’ depth situation while leaving Beckley along with assistant coaches Stephen Carmon and Joe Bowers with decisions to be made.
“It’s a good problem to have, but it might be a problem,” Beckley said. “We’re worried about the mentality of our team, right now. Early in the season, it’s difficult for players to see the big picture and they focus on themselves more than they do the team. It takes a while for the team concept to sink it. That’s something that we have to address.”