SUMTER --- Having been used sparingly --- to the tune of eight innings pitched in Kershaw County’s first 21 games of the season --- Post 17 head coach Tyler Pike did not know what he would get from Brandon Dow who was sent to the mound to face Rock Hill in Saturday morning’s first game of the South Carolina American Legion State Tournament.
Dow, a 2016 Camden High graduate, failed to let the big stage or, the searing heat get to him as he worked into the fifth inning before handing the ball over to T.J. White. The right-handed combo, aided along by 11 errors, help the 17ers to an 11-6 win over the top seed from the Upper State.
It was the second time in their last two state tournament appearances that P-17 had defeated Rock Hill. In 2014, KC downed Post 34, 7-3, in an opening round game, also at Riley Park.
Dow, who has battled issues with his right arm throughout the spring and summer, came up big when he was needed most. His innings-eating effort was needed to help out a beleaguered KC pitching staff while providing a bridge to the dependable White, who picked up the win by allowing just one hits while striking out three batters in 4.2 innings of relief work.
In order to get the ball to White, though, Pike and the 17ers needed for Dow to hold down the fort in the early going. Together, the duo allowed six runs on as many hits.
“I couldn’t be any prouder of Brandon Dow and T.J. White,” Pike said after a game which was played on a Saturday in which the heat index reportedly registered at 114 degrees at steamy Riley Park. “They are two guys who stay in the game and are always ready to play. You don’t ever hear anything from either of them about playing time but they’re ready when their number is called.”
Rock Hill’s blunders in the field led to three first inning KC runs. But the 17ers also put the ball in play and put pressure on Post 34 as they banged out eight hits while striking out four times.
Post 17 jumped on Rock Hill starter Josh Alley for three runs in the top of the first with the burly 6-foot-4 right-hander complicating matters for himself by walking three batters to go along with a pair of errors made behind him in the 9 a.m. eye-opener.
Things started going south for the Upper State entry from the get-go as KC leadoff batter Brock Robinson got aboard on an error before being bunted over to second by Nick Butler. With one gone, Alley issued three consecutive walks to Josh Hernandez, Bradwin Salmond and Devin Beckley, the third of which brought Robinson across with the game’s first run.
A throwing error on a Ross Hough grounder to shortstop plated Hernandez with the second run while a sacrifice fly to center from Christian Flick scored Salmond for the quick 3-0 lead.
After working a scoreless opening frame, Dow was touched up for three runs on four hits in the home half of the second with the big blow being provided by Brandon Ashley, whose two-run single came after Beckley snagged Fuller Wilson’s bases-loaded liner at first base before stepping on the bag for the unassisted double play.
KC would give itself and Dow breathing room by scoring four times in the fourth after scratching a pair across in the third for a comfortable 9-3 advantage.
In the third, Salmond reached on a fielders’ choice and moved to second when Beckley was hit by an Alley offering. Beckley was then gunned down at second on the back end of a double steal attempt which landed Salmond safely on third with two outs.
Hough then sent a scorching line along the third base line for a double before coming around from second on Flick’s RBI single to center. After issuing walks to Nick Stokes and John Bailey, Alley was lifted in favor of Andrew Shipman who, temporarily, put out the fire by getting a fly ball out to squash the uprising.
Shipman was not as lucky in the fourth.
Nick Butler started things by legging out a leadoff infield single. Pike then went small with both Hernandez and Salmond, the 17ers’ third and cleanup batters, laying down dandy bunts along the third base line which went for singles to load the bags. Beckley then delivered a sharp double to left to drive in Butler and Hernandez. An error on the play allowed Salmond to check into third, still with no outs.
Hough’s sac fly to left brought in Salmond while a throwing and fielding error on the play allowed Beckley to come in with the ninth run and give the visiting side a 9-3 lead.
“They had a pretty good pitcher on the mound,” Pike said of Alley. “We told our guys to be patient and make him throw you strikes. That’s one thing we have to improve on; being patient, having good at-bats and not swinging at the first pitch. We wanted to make them work.”
Rock Hill trimmed the deficit to four runs with a pair in the fifth against a tiring Dow who issued consecutive one-out walks to Will Gardiner and Cameron Smith before being lifted for White who, after getting Trent Autry to fly out to Hough in center, was tagged for a two-run double off the bat of Alley as the lead was cut to 9-5.
Receiving 4.1 innings of work from Dow allowed Pike to be able to manage his bullpen and save some arms for the rest of the tournament.
“Honestly, I had no plan,” Pike said when asked how he would make it through, pitching-wise, on Saturday. “I was sitting there before the game and said, ‘Brandon, if we get one inning out of you, we get one inning. If we get nine, we get nine. It doesn’t matter how much we get out of you today, just give me what you can give me; out-by-out, inning-by-inning, that’s what we’ll take.’
“That’s exactly what he went out and did.”
Shipman was holding KC at bay until a two-run top of the eighth which opened with Butler’s drive to left field going for a two-base error. With one gone, Salmond delivered a run-producing single to center. With two gone and Salmond still on first, Hough hit a grounder to Smith at third whose throw to second to try and get Salmond sailed wide of the base. A bunt single by Flick loaded the bases for Stokes whose grounder was booted which, allowing Salmond to come in with the 11th run.
White, who was cruising along, was stung by alley’s solo home run to left with one gone in the eighth. But the Westwood High product bounced back from that by getting three outs via pop fly before Gardiner ended the game with a bunt which was gobbled up by Flick with the catcher’s throw easily getting Gardiner at first to close things.
Having to use just Dow and White allowed Pike to set up his pitching for the remainder of the double-elimination tourney. And in an event in which teams have been going through pitching at a steady clip, using the pair to put the rest of the rotation back on their normal schedule was a shot in the arm for KC.
“Dow, man, was gutsy. He kept fighting, threw strikes and kept us in the game,” Pike said. “Then, T.J. came in and it was the same thing, the same story. I’ve told these boys that if they can throw strikes, we’ll be in every game.”
Offensively, Hernandez and Salmond each collected two hits while Beckley had a double and three RBI. Hough and Flick drove in a pair of runs each for the 17ers who received help thanks to Rock Hill’s struggles in the field.
“They had a lot of errors but we put pressure on them,” Pike said. “This might have been the first time all year that we’ve executed that well. We were laying bunts down, stealing bases, advancing on throws … we forced them to make plays and when we put the pressure on them, it was tough for them.”
Keeping POSTed: When asked after the win when was the last time he went that many innings in a game, a smiling Dow said “probably about eight years.” He then added that all he had working for him was his fastball … With the sun blistering the third base side of the field, where the P-17 dugout was located, most of the KC fans made their way to the upper rows of blearchers at Riley Park where they could take advantage of the few but welcomed breezes while getting some relief thanks to the oversized ceiling fans attached to the roof of the stadium … One fan who was undaunted by the sauna-like conditions of the day was Rich Abbott, father of Post 17 pitcher Will Abbott, who sat in his sun-engulfed front row seat for all nine innings, a feat which was noted by those in the air conditioned press box at Riley Park … Unofficially, Riley Park and Sumter Post 15 were said to have re-upped with state American Legion officials to host the event for an unspecified number of years. It would be the right move given its central location and the way Sumter, its American Legion members and the community embrace the event which is done in a first class manner. The grounds crew is made up of city workers who take care of the field while The Sumter Item celebrates the tournament with a special section including stories --- and pictures --- on each of the eight competing teams as well as other tourney-related information.
Day 1 results: Saturday’s opening round of the 87th South Carolina State American Legion Tournament was a good day for the Lower State entries. In addition to Post 17’s win, Florence topped Greenville, 12-1, while Chapin-Newberry ran over Inman, 15-1. The only Upper State winner was Greenwood, which upended Sumter, 9-4.