SUMTER --- Six days after having extended their season with a pair of play-in game wins, Kershaw County Post 17 used William Cobb’s two-out RBI single in the bottom of the 10th to keep its state championship dreams alive.
In a game with stock market-like ups and downs, it was KC which had the highest of highs in a 10-9 win over Inman in a Monday elimination game at the South Carolina American Legion State Tournament at Riley Park.
The 17ers took advantage of a third life when, on suicide squeeze play with one gone in the top of the 10th, Inman’s Jacob Corn was ruled out at the plate when he intentionally slapped the ball out of the glove of Camden catcher Will Abbott who was applying the tag on Corn. With runners on second and third with two gone, Will Hough got Luke Johnson to ground out to second baseman Brock Robinson who went far to his right to gun Johnson down at first thanks in part to Cobb’s stretching to get to the low throw.
Things hardly looked promising in the home half of the 10th as Post 45 reliever Hunter Gneisig retired the first two batters before Nick Stokes worked his way to a six-pitch walk. A wild pitch on the first offering to Cobb allowed Stokes to advance to second. On the next pitch, Cobb sent a liner over the head of a leaping second baseman Mike Elijah which brought Stokes home without a play being made at the plate. As Stokes came across with the winning run, his teammates were divided in their celebration, first mobbing Stokes before heading to first base to track down Cobb.
Cobb, who is still nursing a nagging hip injury, answered the call when he was needed most.
“Cobb stepped up big. That was a big moment,” said first-year Post 17 head coach Tyler Pike. “It was clutch, very clutch, on his part.”
Cobb’s hit was his third in the three-hour, 35-minute slugfest. KC (16-9) collected 18 hits while Inman banged out 15. Of the 33 hits, 31 were of the singles variety.
While excited to advance to the championship round of the eight-team tourney, Pike said this game was hardly an artistic success.
“At points in the game, for us,” he said, “it was ugly. We had a couple errors here and there, a couple walks a couple close calls but overall, what makes me so proud is the way these boys fight. We’re never out of it and we really believe it. We could be down 10-0 in the ninth and we’re going to play like we’re down by one run.”
The 17ers were down by that one run going into the bottom of the ninth after Hough, who went the final three innings in relief of fellow reliever T.J. White, threw a scoreless top of the ninth in which the hosts trailed, 8-7.
As he would do an inning later in the 10th, Gneisig set down the first two batters he faced with Robinson seeking to keep the game and the KC season alive. Robinson got aboard by drawing a walk after his grounder which skirted the third base line was called foul after third baseman Tim Beach fielded the ball and threw a strike to first to seemingly end the contest only for the ball to have been ruled foul. Nick Butler followed followed and sent a single --- his fourth of the game --- to left as Robinson slid safely into third to bring KC’s leading hitter, Josh Hernandez, to the plate.
Hernandez, who was intentionally walked in the second inning, trailed in the count, 1-2. Inman then tried some trickery with catcher Robbie Vess signaling for an intentional walk and taking the throw from Gneisig. One pitch later, Vess stood up before quickly returning to his crouch position with Hernandez sending a grounder to Beach, who was playing a step in front of the outfield grass. Beach was unable to come up with the ball cleanly and the bobble allowed a sprinting Hernandez to stumble safely across first base while Robinson came in with the tying run to make it an 8-8 stalemate.
Inman came right back in the 10th with Corn getting a one-out single to left. Payton Kendle then laid down a bunt and was safe on an overthrow to first base. Corn landed on third and Kendle on second on the two-base throwing error. With Elijah at the plate with first base open, Pike elected to load the bases with an intentional walk to get a force at any base. Johnson missed laying down the suicide squeeze on the second pitch with Corn charging down the line only to be greeted by Abbott, who applied the tag on the runner who appeared to be out of the baseline before smacking the ball from Abbott’s mitt for the second out. KC got out of the inning unscathed thanks to the play between Robinson and Cobb.
KC had to come from behind four times in the final seven frames to keep its season alive.
In the top of the eighth, Inman used a two-out, two-run single down the left field line from Elijah to drive in Gneisig and Jacob Murphy whose back-to-back singles ended White’s night after two-plus innings of relief wokr in coming on for starter Devin Beckley.
Trailing 9-7 in the bottom of the eighth with Gneisig on the mound, Bradwin Salmond delivered a leadoff single to center before taking second on a passed ball. Hough then delivered a chopping single to left to plate Salmond to make it a one-run game. But an inning-ending double play kept the lead at one which is the way things stayed until the home portion of the ninth when KC knotted things.
Inman used a double steal in the top of the first to grab to a 1-0 lead when Elijah came in from third on the back half of the play.
The home team got to starter Adam Leizsler for a run in their first at-bat to even things.
Robinson, who went 3-for-4 on the afternoon, led off with an opposite field single to right. A one-out single to left by Hernandez put runners on the corners with Robinson scoring when Leizsler was called for a one-out balk.
Beckley was given a two-run cushion when the 17ers tacked on two runs in the second with Cobb legging out a two-out infield single. John Bailey then surprised Post 45 with a bunt with the throw sailing into right field which allowed Cobb to circle the bases while Bailey pulled into third on the three-base error. Two batters later, Stokes lined an RBI single to left to drive in Bailey for the 3-1 lead.
Inman evened things with solo runs in the third and fourth inning and nearly added more in the fifth only to see Bailey come charging in from centerfield to make a diving stab of Corn’s sinking liner with runners on first and second.
An inning later, Pike replaced his battery with White coming on in relief of Beckley while Will Abbott donned the catcher’s gear to replace a worn out Christian Flick, who had caught every inning of the team’s first four games plus the first five on Tuesday. In addition to their being taken from the field, the departures also took away KC’s fifth and sixth batters in the order.
“I thought it was the right spot,” Pike said of the changes. “Devin was throwing OK. He had a few walks but he was working hard and throwing strikes. He was very effective but his pitch count was getting up there so we decided to pull the trigger and go with T.J. (White.)”
As for Flick, the combination of four consecutive games played in searing heat took a toll on his body.
“These back to back to back to back games, his legs are pretty sore,” Pike said of Flick. “He’s a pretty tough kid and he came up to me and, I know it took a lot for him to say it but he said, ‘Coach, I need to take a little breather here.’
“It was planned before the game that we were going to go half and half with him and Abbott. Fortunately, Will is ready to go at any time and play anywhere.”
Inman upped the ante to three runs by scoring three in the top of the sixth to go on top, 6-3. P-17 answered with a two-spot in its half of the frame.
Cobb delivered a leadoff single to right against Post 45 starter Adam Leizsler. Bailey’s sacrifice bunt attempt was botched as the hosts had their first two batters aboard for Robinson whose single to deep short loaded the bases with no outs. Butler followed with an RBI single to center which led to Beach’s coming on in relief of Leizsler.
Hernandez greeted Beach by sending a pop fly to center which was dropped as Bailey came home while Butler was thrown out at second on the odd fielders’ choice which cut the lead to 6-5.
Inman would tack on a seventh run in the seventh to extend its lead to two runs only to have KC knot things by scoring a pair in the seventh which started with consecutive singles off the bats of Abbott and Stokes. Two-out singles from Robinson and Butler gave the 17ers a 7-6 lead which was erased in the eighth by Elijah’s two-out, two-run single to left to put Post 45 on top, 8-7.
Hough earned the win for the 17ers in working the final three innings after coming on for White, who has been a workhorse out of the bullpen in having worked three games at Riley Park.
Tuesday’s win combined with Florence knocking off Chapin-Newberry, 10-2, in Tuesday’s nightcap meant that Post 17 would be playing for its first state American Legion championship. The victory over Inman, Pike said, was indicative of his team’s play throughout the season.
“It’s a domino effect,” Pike said. “I don’t know what it is but ever since that playoff doubleheader in Florence, it’s been a fight team.
“If we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down swinging and give it everything we’ve got. That makes me proud because it’s more than baseball, it’s about life for these boys and teaching lessons here that we hope will carry over for them.”