When a team is struggling, even the seemingly simplest of tasks become as difficult as an elephant learning to figure skate.
Make no mistake about it, the Dalzell-Shaw American Legion baseball squad is going through some hard times.
For the better part of five innings, Dalzell-Shaw sat poised and was possibly staring down its first win of the League III season. Then, in the blink of an eye, it all fell apart.
Trailing host Kershaw County, 4-3, in the bottom of the fifth, the visiting Jets saw their chance to stay in the game fall apart when Will Abbott’s grounder to shortstop with the bags jammed and no outs turned into a bases-clearing fielders’ choice. KC never lost the momentum from that point and went on to a 13-3 Thursday night win in a game stopped in the bottom of the seventh by the 10-run rule.
KC improved to 3-1 with the victory while the Jets fell to 0-8.
As for this game at American Legion Park, Dalzell-Shaw was exactly where it wanted to be after closing the gap to 4-3 with a run in the top of the fifth.
The Jets used a one-out double to the gap in right center from Lenny Gonzalez. Collin Creamer followed with a single before Christian Buford ripped an RBI double to center to make it 4-3. KC starter Ross Hough would avoid further damage by getting Josh Whitley to line to shallow center before Josh Barnett flew to deep center to end the inning and short-circuit the threat.
Post 17 gave Hough some breathing room thanks to getting some help from the guests in the home half of the fifth.
Josh Hernandez led off the fifth inning with his second of three consecutive doubles; this off Jets’ reliever Barnett. After Nick Stokes walked, Hough was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs for Abbott, who sent a sharp grounder to Whitley at shortstop. The throw to the plate to get Hernandez was low and off the mark, allowing both Hernandez and Stokes to score. The throw to third to get Hough went into left field as he scored the third run on the play. Abbott tried to take third on his ground ball only to be thrown out on a bang-bang play at third. The damage was done however, as the hosts took a 7-3 advantage, much to the dismay of Jets’ coach Gene Durant.
“We played tight, we hit the ball well and we stayed in the game until the fifth inning and then the wheels came off,” Durant said. “We had the bases loaded and a tailor-made play and we threw the ball away and they cleared the bases. After that, it was just downhill.
“We have to get over that hump. It seems like when we make a crucial error, it just falls apart for us.”
First-year Post 17 head coach Tyler Pike said the play put some much-needed wind in his team’s sails.
“They had a couple of little mishaps on that play and we were able to take advantage of it,” he said. “That cost them big; that was a killer for them. You could tell that the momentum was swinging our way after that.”
The three runs and the four-run lead gave Hough some needed breathing room. The submarine-throwing lefty, who redshirted this past spring at Erskine College, battled control problems early as the Jets scored a run in each of the first two frames.
In the top of the first, Dalzell-Shaw starting pitcher Gavin Melton hit a one-out single to right and then stole second. He scored on Creamer’s run-scoring single to right while leaving runners on the corners.
The hosts evened things with a run in their half of the first as Brock Robinson sent a one-out single to center before scoring on Bradwin Salmond’s sinking triple to right field.
The Jets went on top, 2-1, in the second as Barnett drew a leadoff walk and was bunted over to second by Jesse Lucas. A walk to Lance Regan put runners on first and second with one out. With two gone, Melton sent a single to center to drive Barnett home with the go-ahead run. Again, though, Dalzell-Shaw left runners stranded on first and third as Hough was able to stay afloat after having given up two runs on four hits while walking two batters and hitting one in his first two innings of work.
Pike said Hough may have burned himself out a bit in the bullpen before settling down after a bumpy start.
“Ross came out here about 30 minutes before game time and was constantly throwing in the bullpen and working up a sweat in this heat and then he headed right to the mound,” Pike said. “I think you saw a little fatigue right from the get-go. Once we had a few innings where we scored some runs and he was able to get a breather, he was able to settle down and he looked a lot better.”
The first of the Jets’ six errors led to KC knotting the game at 2-2 in the second as John Bailey greeted reliever Barnett by reaching on an error which came after Will Abbott’s booming double which clanged off the fence in left. With runners on the corners, a double-steal resulted in Bailey’s swiping second while Abbott was thrown out at the plate by Whitley. Bailey later scored on Nick Butler’s sac fly to left.
Melton lasted just seven batters after complaining of an arm issue when he came into the dugout after the first inning.
“His arm was hurting,” Durant said of pulling the right-hander from the mound so early in the contest. “He’s my ace pitcher and he came up to me after the first inning and said, ‘Coach, my arm is hurting.’
“I asked to see if he could get us through the second inning and he couldn’t. We let him throw to one batter and then, we took him out.”
The 17ers tacked on two more runs in the fourth as Hough got on via an error before scoring from first on Abbott’s second double of the night; this a liner to left center. Abbott made it a 4-3 game when he scored on Cam Holley’s sacrifice fly to left.
KC put some additional distance between itself and the Jets with a five-run sixth frame in which the hosts collected six hits while batting around.
The inning opened with a Robinson single which lined off Barnett’s right leg. With one gone, Hernandez rocked an RBI double to left. Hernandez later scored on a wild pitch to make it 9-3.
Hough kept the rally going with a two-out single to center which was followed by singles from Abbott and Bailey, whose single plated Hough while Abbott came around from first base on an error on the play. Bailey made it 12-3 when he scored on Butler’s single to left.
The night came to an early close when pinch-hitter Brandon Dow, who reached on a two-base error, scored on Bailey’s one-out fielders’ choice with the bases loaded.
The locals collected 15 hits on the night led by Hernandez going 3-for-3 --- all doubles --- to go along with a walk. Abbott went 3-for-4 with two doubles which nearly left the spacious ball yard.
In two games with Dalzell-Shaw, Hernandez went 5-for-5 at the plate with two walks while scoring six runs.
“Hernandez can’t make an out right now,” Pike said of the A.C. Flora graduate. “He’s hot and he’s seeing the ball well. He’s playing with a tight groin and we’re going to have to nurse that up a little bit.”
As for Abbott, the 6-foot-4 Camden High grad is enjoying what may be his final swings at the plate during American Legion ball.
“If we can get Abbott in the weight room, a little bit, then maybe he can poke one out of here,” Pike said with a laugh. “Will had a couple good drives tonight which is good to see. Will has been working out at it. He’s going to The Citadel as a pitcher only but he takes his hitting seriously, too.”
In addition to Hernandez and Abbott, Butler, who moved in from the outfield to handle the catching chores with Christian Flick on vacation, drove in two runs while Robinson and Holley each had two-hit nights.
As for Hough, he rebounded nicely and went the first six innings before Stokes worked the seventh and recorded two strikeouts.
Hough, a lefty, scattered eight hits while fanning three batters.
“I was real pleased with the way that we hit the ball tonight,” Durant said. “(KC) has a good ballclub but we just have to keep playing hard to get over that hump.”
Pike, who complimented the Jets for being aggressive at the plate, used Sunday to get the 17ers ready for a three-game set with Sumter which began on Monday at Riley Park before the middle game in Camden tonight.
KC will play games two and three in the series minus the services of Hernandez and Abbott, who will be in Cary, N.C., playing for the South Carolina Select team against their Tar Heel State counterparts. Robinson will also be away this week leaving the locals minus three starters for Tuesday and Thursday.
“We’re going to miss those guys,” Pike said, “but it gives some other guys the opportunity to play.”
Keeping POSTed: Sumter came into the series with Kershaw County sporting a 9-0 record to lead League III. The three games will cap the league campaign for Post 15 which will play three non-league games and host the three-day Palmetto Invitational before the state playoffs begin on July 4 … At 3-1, Post 17 sits in second place followed by Orangeburg (3-3), Manning-Santee (1-4) and Dalzell-Shaw (0-8) … After losing their season opener at Manning-Santee, the 17ers have outscored the opposition by a combed 40-7 count during their current three-game win streak. Sumter averages scoring nearly 10 runs per game … The third game of the P-17 vs. Dalzell-Shaw series will be played in Camden on Thursday, June 30 … KC will have Devin Beckley, William Cobb and Christian Flick in tow this week.