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Demons get help from rival Dogs in 7-3 win
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Saving their best for last, Lugoff-Elgin and host Camden sent their respective aces to the mound in Wednesday’s Telasco Alarm Service Camden Spring Break Tournament finale.
For six innings, the battle between Taylor Lunsford and Camden’s Jake Ansley lived up to --- if not, exceeded --- nearly all expectations as the two dueled to a 1-1 standoff. Then, the wheels came off for the Bulldog defense as they helped L-E to a six-run top of the seventh, paving the way for a 7-3 Demons’ victory.
L-E won the tourney title with a sweep of its three games while CHS played it best game of the week on Wednesday after losing its first two games at American Legion Park.
Throughout this season, the Bulldogs have had an inning or two which have undone all the good they did the rest of the game. On Wednesday, those breakdowns were saved for last.
Camden aided the Demons’ five-hit seventh frame by committing four errors behind Ansley and reliever Jalen Rice, making the hosts’ two runs in the bottom of the inning off Lunsford as simply window-dressing.
“We have to be able to, mentally, overcome that,” said CHS head coach Denny Beckley’s of his team’s seventh-inning miscues. “That took the wind out of our sails. We have to say, ‘I want the ball hit to me’ instead of ‘Oh, no, here we go again.’”
Ansley, a senior right-hander, took a two-hitter into the top of the seventh which came after the Dogs knotted things at 1-1 with a run in the bottom of the sixth.
Things got off to a bad start for the tourney hosts in the final inning when L-E leadoff batter Zack Hughes sent a low liner to left which went for a double after the ball skidded past a sliding Nick Tucker. Pinch-runner Tripp Cassady went to third on a wild pitch after a sacrifice bunt attempt was grabbed in foul territory by CHS catcher Josh Lund for the first out.
Russ Radcliff then sent a hopper to third, but an errant throw to the plate allowed Cassady to come across with the go-ahead run. Devin Walker, who collected eight hits in three games, got the last of those on a liner to left. He then swiped second to put runners in scoring position, still with one out. Another error led to Radcliff making it 3-1. Walker scored on a Cody Mailly single to center in what was Ansley’s final batter of the game before Beckley brought in Rice.
An error on an Austin Hayes fly ball to center kept the rally going. With two outs, a Jacob Young single loaded the bags for Dylan Grigsby, whose chopper was thrown away allowing Mailly and Hayes to come in with runs five and six. Young scored on Cassady’s infield single before Rice got out of more trouble with an inning-ending strikeout.
“Ansley was so good; he kept us at bay,” said L-E head coach Randy Stokes. “Finally, we got the opportunity to get guys on (in the seventh) and we took advantage of it.”
Camden tacked on a pair in its final at-bat when Zack Caulder got aboard on a two-out fielders’ choice. Will Morgan followed by drawing a walk before Darius Smith did likewise to load the bags. An error on a Cole Irick grounder brought two runs in before Lunsford got a comebacker to close a complete-game effort which improved his mound mark to 4-1.
Lunsford, a junior lefty, gave up one earned run on seven hits while fanning seven on a night in which he struck out five of the first six batters he faced.
“Our hat is off to L-E and for the way they responded,” Beckley said. “Lunsford did a great job of locating tonight. He’s a very gritty pitcher. I really like how he battles.”
The Demons gave Lunsford a 1-0 lead after a top of the first in which Walker’s leadoff single and Hayes’ bunt single sandwiched a walk to Mailly as the guests loaded the bases after the first three batters of the night. With one gone, Young brought home the night’s first run with a walk before Ansley stopped the bleeding with an infield fly and a ground out.
Beckley said Ansley has had his early inning problems only to pitch himself out of trouble. This night, the Bulldog boss said, was no different for his senior.
“Once Jake got through the first inning, he was as good as we’ve ever seen him. I’m very proud of him,” Beckley said.
“He’s struggled in the first inning all year long and it continued tonight, as well. He’s really done a good job of minimizing that first inning. He did a good job of bearing down and not making that into a bad inning. Just keeping that a one-run inning was a good job on his part to fight through that.”
That one run looked huge as Lunsford zipped through the CHS order, facing only 10 batters in the first three innings. He found himself in a bit of trouble in a fourth as Irick opened things with a single to left, the hosts’ first hit of the night. But a strikeout - throw-out at second, courtesy of Walker behind the plate, helped snuff a potential threat. An inning later, CHS had runners on first and second with two outs, only to see Lunsford get a pop fly to Radcliff at shortstop to get through another inning unscathed.
“Taylor looked good early,” said Stokes. “I thought Denny and them were going to make a run at us. We got out of some jams tonight. There were a couple times where they got runners on second … a big hit there changes the complexion of the game. We worked our way out of it.”
Camden got to Lunsford in a crazy sixth which was kick-started when Ansley lined a one-out double along the left field line. Ross Hough followed with an RBI single to left to even things. Lund would then single before being lifted for a courtesy runner to put men on first and second. Beckley then rolled the dice and called a steal. Hough slide safely into third, only to go beyond the bag as Hayes, playing third, re-applied his glove on the runner who was called out. Seconds later, a Bulldog runner was picked off second by an inside move, killing the hosts’ threat to take the lead.
“I’ll be thinking about that for quite some time,” Beckley said of the two plays in the sixth. “That was my call on stealing; it was a timing thing. We had a great jump and, there was a bang-bang play (at third) that went their way.”
Walker and freshman Gunner Smith had a pair of hits each to pace the nine-hit L-E attack while Hough, also a freshman, had two of Camden’s seven hits. Later, Stokes praised the effort of his senior catcher for his play on three hot afternoons and nights.
“Devin had a great week,” Stokes said of Walker. “I brag on him; he’s mine. He might have been the best player on this field this week, in my opinion. He had eight hits in three games and caught every inning in the heat. He’s a special player.”
While leaving the tournament in different directions, both Beckley and Stokes said their teams will benefit from having played in an environment such as that on Wednesday night, in a game which attracted several hundred fans to watch the two rivals go at it for the second of three meetings this year.
“We always try to use this week to better ourselves,” Stokes said. “Confidence-wise, for our kids being young kids, this week did a lot for us. And this rivalry game had that big game, playoff-type environment which our kids haven’t played in many time. I was wondering how our kids were going to respond to it with the lights being on and playing our rivals. But our kids responded to it. Our kids played well and played hard.
“We were very focused. I am very proud of them.”
Beckley, whose team plays two non-region games next week, was concerned about his team’s psyche after having lost to North Central and Ridge View in the first two nights of the event. He left feeling better about things after Wednesday.
“Tonight,” he said, “I think we showed that we’re OK. We fought very hard against a very good team. The thing we take from in this tournament is that we saw three very good pitchers, like we are going to see in the playoffs, and we got better. Despite going 0-3, we learned a lot about ourselves and what we have to do to get better from this point. I think that can be a positive for us.”
“We love putting on this tournament and having L-E involved; it does create that kind of a (state tournament) atmosphere. It can only be a positive for us.”
A tourney thank you: Beckley also gave a tip of the cap to Phillip Taylor, owner of Telasco Alarm Service for sponsoring the event, as well as to Ronnie’s Ribs and BBQ of Elgin, whose BBQ sandwiches were a hit at the concession stand on Wednesday.
“It’s been a good week,” Beckley said at the conclusion of the three-day, 12-game tournament.