Everything about it reeked of "trap" game. But Camden High baseball coach Denny Beckley would have none of that talk following his team’s 3-2 come-from-behind victory over visiting Dreher Friday night.
Playing a struggling Blue Devil squad two nights after a 2-1 loss to rival Lugoff-Elgin and a week after opening Region 4-AAA play with a 5-2 win over three-time defending AAA state champion A.C. Flora, there was all the worry in the world that the host Bulldogs could be in for an emotional letdown.
Heading into the bottom of the sixth, worry turned into concern until the Dogs scored twice on four hits and then had Devin Beckley come on to shut the door on Dreher in the seventh.
When asked if he felt this game at American Legion Field could have been considered a trap game given that it came after A.C. Flora and L-E and before Tuesday’s home game with Richland Northeast --- which sits a half-game behind Camden (3-0 in Region 4-AAA) in the conference standings --- Beckley thought for a moment before giving his answer.
"I don’t know about that," he said. "I think the (Alex) Jeter kid threw just well enough to give us problems. We jumped on him early and relaxed a little bit to where we lost some of our intensity. It’s a crazy game; I don’t have an explanation for it."
Dreher came into this contest on the heels of being no-hit by Richland Northeast. And, speaking of no-hitters, CHS sent Ross Hough to the mound for his first start since throwing 5.1 innings of no-hit ball against Flora the previous Friday night. But there would not be any magic in the senior lefty’s arm on this night as he was pulled with one out in the third after throwing 54 pitches.
Camden sent Brandon Dow and Brandon Morrow to the mound following Hough before Devin Beckley came on to close. In all, the quartet surrendered five hits fanning seven and walking six batters. That latter number was one which bothered pitching coach Zack Rabon.
While the Bulldogs were forced to piece things together on the mound, Jeter went the distance for the Blue Devils. The right-hander was cruising along after allowing a run in the first. He would give up one hit in the second and would not surrender another until the bottom half of the sixth. By then, Jeter was pitching with a 2-1 lead.
In spite of his team’s struggles at the plate in the second through fifth frames, Beckley was feeling good as the meat of his team’s order was scheduled to come to bat in the sixth.
"We felt good going into the sixth … we really did," Beckley said. "We met with the team and said, ‘Hey, it’s our time.’ Fortunately, (Lawson) Stokes led off with a big double and everyone else sort of followed suit."
Stokes led the inning off by crushing a leadoff double to the fence in left center. Camden then went small ball as cleanup hitter Austen Haney laid down a dandy of a bunt for a single along the third base line to put runners on the corners. Hough then went the opposite way with a game-tying single to right before Will Abbott laid down another perfectly placed bunt for a single to load the bases.
"We’ve really struggled with the bunt game," Beckley said of that part of his team’s arsenal heading into Friday. "Tonight was a great example for our kids as to how important the bunt is in high school baseball. We’ve been working very hard at it and, fortunately, it worked out for us tonight."
Christian Flick’s ground out to shortstop plated Haney with the go-ahead run while the Dogs still had runners on second and third with one gone. Not a big squeeze guy, Beckley called for the suicide squeeze only to have the plan go by the boards as a popped up bunt was grabbed by DHS catcher Daniel Duncan whose throw to third easily doubled up Hough who was charging to the plate on the play.
"In the L-E game, they called time out with Christian (Flick) coming to bat with a runner on third," Beckley explained of his decision. "He said to me, ‘What are you thinking?’ I said to him, ‘I’m thinking (you) hit the ball.’
"The same thing happened tonight and they called a conference with their pitcher. Our guys talked about it and I said that I felt confident with swinging the bat. But I thought (calling for a squeeze) would be more of a surprise. Unfortunately, it backfired on us."
With a one-run lead, Beckley called on his son Devin, who earned a win in Tuesday’s shutout over Lower Richland. The sophomore righty issued a one-out walk before getting a strikeout only to have Tyler Flemming take a two-strike fastball the other way for a two-out single to right to put runners on first and second. Beckley got out of the mini-jam in getting Duncan to ground out to Tyler Jordan at second base to end the game.
The home half of the sixth inning seemed a long time from the start of the game as Camden put up the game’s first run when Darius Smith got aboard with a one-out single, went to second on a wild pitch before scoring on Stokes’ first of two doubles on the night to left center. That would be it for the hosts, though, until their sixth inning flurry.
Meanwhile, Hough’s arm started to grow weary in the third as he issued a leadoff walk to Matthew Campbell before he was forced at second by Grayson Stiglbauer’s grounder. An error on a Jeter grounder and a wild pitch allowed Campbell to go from first to third and then score, respectively, as Jeter’s courtesy runner, C.K. Huston, advanced from first to third on the wild pitch. After issuing a walk to Joey Fralick, Rabon and Denny Beckley decided that Hough had thrown enough pitches to bring in Dow.
With men on the corners with one gone, Fralick was gunned down at second by Flick’s throw but that allowed Huston to come across with the go-head run which stood until the sixth inning.
After Hough, Dow worked 1.2 innings of relief while working out of a jam as he got a comebacker to end the fourth with runners on second and third. Brandon Morrow come on in the fifth and threw two innings of scoreless, one-hit ball as the Dogs were able to steady the ship while waiting for the offense to come through. With Devin Beckley coming on in the seventh, Dreher saw four different style pitchers and four different speeds as the night went along.
"It’s a marathon, not a sprint," Beckley said when asked of Hough’s early exit from the mound. "As important as every region game is, we can’t jeopardize a kid’s arm. Ross wasn’t feeling real comfortable so we got him out of there.
"Dow and Morrow both did an effective job and Devin came in and it was really a big difference for them in velocity and it was tough for them to adjust. We thought we might be able to piece it together and sneak out of here with a big win.