SUMTER --- Call it the Monday blahs. Blame it on the heat or, chalk it up to the grind of a lengthy summer campaign.
Choose your description but for whatever reason, Monday’s state American Legion tournament game between Kershaw County and Florence was hardly the type of affair one would expect from the two unbeatens entries remaining in the eight-team field.
In a contest marred by a combined eight errors which helped lead to 15 unearned runs, Florence doubled up Post 17, 12-6, to advance to Wednesday’s tournament championship as the lone unbeaten team in the event heading into Tuesday’s pairing with defending national champion Chapin-Newberry.
KC (15-9) committed five errors in the field to Post 1’s three, all of which came in a bottom of the first inning in which the 17ers gave starting pitcher Bradwin Salmond a quick 3-0 lead. A half-inning later, a one-out error on a ground ball opened the floodgates for Florence which scored six runs on three hits.
In its first two games of the tourney at Riley Park, KC committed four errors which led to two runs. The League III runners-up were not as fortunate the third time out.
“Bradwin, I thought, pitched fine,” said first-year P-17 head coach Tyler Pike. “He walked a couple guys in the first inning but we had that one big error and they scored six runs after that error; that proved costly, especially after we came out and put up a three-spot on them.”
While KC’s second inning blunder led the way for a six-run Florence uprising, the League 2 champions had their own struggles in the field after Salmond retired the side in order to open the evening.
Brock Robinson’s grounder to shortstop could not be fielded cleanly as the KC leadoff batter got aboard on an error against Post 1 starter Bryant Huggins. After Nick Butler sacrificed Robinson to second with a bunt and with first base open, Josh Hernandez was issued a four-pitch unintentional-intentional walk.
Salmond followed by delivering a hard-hit single to center. The throw from Jon Mitchell Carter to the infield went wild as Robinson scored on the play while Hernandez bolted for third and Salmond took off for second. The throw to try and get Salmond from home sailed into left field allowing Hernandez to score while Salmond wound up at third base on the play.
An already strange inning got a bit quirkier when Devin Beckley’s fly ball to shallow left was hauled in by shortstop Grayson Cottingham, whose back was to the plate. Seeing that, P-17 third base coach Stephen Carmon had Salmond tagging on the play and scoring the third run in what was a one-hit inning.
After having scored while helped along by an error(s) in the first inning for the third consecutive time in the tournament, KC’s momentum was stunted when Lindsey Robinson reached on a one-out error in the top of the second. After Salmond got Will Hardee to foul out to catcher Christian Flick, the miscue in the field came back to haunt the locals.
A Cody Green walk on a 3-2 count was followed by a Benj Jones RBI double along the left field line. Carter then dropped in a single to shallow right to drive in two runs to even things at three before later scoring on a passed ball. Salmond then issued three consecutive walks before Lex Tuten, who opened the inning by flying out to Robinson at shortstop, sent a two-run single to right to give the four-time state champions a 6-3 advantage.
Florence tacked on two more runs in the fifth in an inning which started with Cottingham reaching on a two-base throwing error before making it 7-3 when Robinson lined a single to left. With two gone, Will Hardee --- who reached on a fielders’ choice --- scored on a Jones single to center which landed just in front of a diving John Bailey for the eighth run.
The fifth was the final inning for Salmond who reached the 80-pitch limit. He was replaced on the mound by Nick Stokes to start the sixth.
After a scoreless top of the sixth, KC inched closer by getting to the lefty Huggins, a one-time Clemson commit who will start his college career at Spartanburg Methodist, for a solo run.
With two gone in the home half of the sixth, Ross Hough reached on a throwing error before scoring from first on Flick’s double to the wall in left center. The two-bagger was the Erskine-bound backstop’s third hit of the night.
With the lead at 8-4, Post 1 plated three more unearned runs in the seventh to extend its lead to seven runs.
The 17ers knocked two runs off that deficit in the home portion of the seventh which began with Bailey being hit by a Huggins offering. With one gone, Butler singled to right. With two gone and runners on first and second, Florence head coach Derek Urquhart went to get Huggins with reliever Jack Beasley in tow. Salmond greeted Beasley with an RBI single to right which brought Bailey home with the fifth run. Butler would then come in on a wild pitch to make it 11-6.
The 17ers sent out Parker Gogan in the eighth. The lefty gave up a run in the ninth to close the evening’s scoring as Florence punched its spot in the state finals for the fifth straight year.
Since getting a second life by winning two play-in games last week to get into the state tournament, Pike and his staff have been stressing patience at the plate to their batters. The 17ers strayed from that philosophy against Huggins, who was able to get ahead in the count and stay there for the majority of the evening.
“Honestly, I really don’t know,” Pike said when asked about his players’ swinging early in the count. “Most of these guys have been patient this whole tournament. For some reason, they were jumping out on (Huggins.) I told them that we can hit with two strikes and don’t be afraid to hit with two strikes. I told them not to get out of their element and ‘wait for your pitch.’
“(Huggins) threw strikes. He did very well but we made it easier on him. When you do that and give a guy like that help, it’s not going to be a good recipe.”
The heat is on: During the course of Saturday’s four games at least one umpire, reportedly, succumbed to the searing heat and passed out in the air conditioned umpire’s room.
On Monday, three sets of three-man umpiring crews worked shifts of three innings each to, literally, take some of the heat off the men in black.
Day three scores: Inman, which lost its tourney opener to Chapin-Newberry, 15-1, on Saturday, lived to see the fourth round thanks to eliminating Greenwood in Monday’s opening game of the tripleheader, 7-6. Tournament host Sumter was also knocked from the tourney after having fallen to Chapin-Newberry, 12-7.