It looked like the break which Devin Beckley needed to get out of a fourth inning jam. Instead, like the evening in general, it ended in frustration for Kershaw County.
Trailing defending national champion Chapin-Newberry, 3-2, with one gone in the top of the fourth inning in Tuesday’s second game of the second round of the state American Legion playoffs, Beckley induced Peyton Spangler to hit a one-out, bases loaded ground ball to Brock Robinson at second base. Robinson made the play but as luck would have it, the sharply hit ground ball got stuck in the webbing of his glove which all but took away any chance of a possible inning-ending double play.
A miscue on the force at second base helped prolong what became an eight-run inning for visiting Post 193/24 which took a 2-0 advantage in the best-of-five series by leaving American Legion Park with a 9-4 victory.
Last year’s American Legion World Series victors also took game one, 12-3, on Monday and returned home on Wednesday hoping to close out a beleaguered Post 17 squad.
After imploring his team to keep fighting in his post-game talk on Tuesday night, KC head coach Tyler Pike said that when Spangler hit the ball, he thought his troops had gotten out of the fourth frame with minimal damage.
“That play really seemed to affect the whole inning,” said the first-year Post 17 boss. “Devin was cruising. He wasn’t throwing a lot of pitches; he had a low pitch count up to then and he was throwing strikes. Man, then one thing led to another.”
The forgettable fourth inning saw the visitors string five hits and four walks together while being helped along by the error in the play at the second base bag.
Pike’s mood was not helped by the fact that the KC offense out-hit C-N, 13-7. The difference in the game was that a trio of Post 17 pitchers allowed 11 walks while hitting one batter as a dozen C-N batters reached without putting the ball in play.
“Almost every loss this season,” Pike said, “we’ve hit the ball well. The bottom line is that is comes down to our pitchers throwing strikes. That has probably been our Achilles heel this season. That will get you every time.
“We had too many walks tonight. You walk more than five batters in a game, it’s tough to win. If you walk 10 or more batters, you can almost chalk it up as a loss.”
The locals carried a 2-0 lead into the fourth inning fiasco thanks to getting to C-N starter Trey Huber for two runs in the home half of the first.
With one gone in the first, Robinson sent an opposite field single to right. A bobble on the play allowed Robinson to take second. After a walk to Josh Hernandez, Bradwin Salmond and Beckley rapped consecutive one-out RBI singles to left field to plate Robinson and Hernandez, respectively.
Huber, a tall, thin lefty would get out of further trouble by getting the final two batters as Salmond and Beckley were left hanging on third and first base, respectively.
From there, Huber bore down and worked four straight scoreless innings. His stint lasted six innings in which he allowed three runs on 10 hits. He struck out four and, most importantly, did not issue a free pass.
“He just stuck with it and kept throwing strikes,” Pike said of the soft-throwing Huber. “He trusted his stuff. It worked for him. He threw strikes and got us out.”
Beckley, meanwhile, was in control in his first three innings of work. The first two hits he surrendered came with one gone in the third. That would all change in the top of the fourth.
Charleston Southern signee Ryan Stoudemire opened things for C-N with a hard-hit leadoff double to right center. He would score from second on Chandler Todd’s single to center. A walk to Alex Ellison and Jordan O’Cain’s single to right loaded the bases with nobody out. A wild pitch plated Todd with the tying run while advancing the other two runners into scoring position for Corey Stone, whose walk re-loaded the bags.
After Brandon Deans went down looking for the first out, a Blake Smith chopper went for a run-scoring single which brought Spangler to the plate with his grounder going for a fielders’ choice and an error allowing O’Cain and Stone to score with runs four and five. Tyler White’s infield single put runners on each base, again. A passed ball allowed Smith to make it 6-2 while bases loaded walks to Stoudemire and Todd plated runs seven and eight to cap Beckley’s night on the mound.
Reliever Will Abbott stopped the bleeding when he got Ellison, the 12th batter of the inning and the first which The Citadel signee faced, to hit a grounder to Robinson who stepped on second before firing to first for the 17ers’ second inning-ending double play in three frames.
“They had some choppers that got over our third baseman’s head and had some bloop hits here and there and they were able to put some stuff together,” Pike said of the decisive top of the fourth inning. “When you walk (four) guys, though, you can’t expect anything good to come out of it.”
The hosts cut the deficit down to five runs in the sixth which opened with a Ross Hough double to center. Hough scored on Abbott’s one-out single to right.
C-N tacked on a ninth run in a top of the ninth in which the visitors did their limited damage without the benefit of a hit as four walks were enough to up the ante to 9-3.
“(C-N) is a very good team and they capitalize on that kind of stuff,” Pike said of the visitors’ scoring thanks to getting runners aboard without putting the ball in play.
Post 17 scored a run in the home half of the ninth when Hernandez sent a one-out sinking liner to right field for a triple, his third hit of the night. He came in on Salmond’s one-out ground out to make it 9-5.
With regular catcher Christian Flick out of town on vacation and nursing an injured right (throwing) shoulder, Nick Butler and Abbott have had to don the catcher’s gear and move from their regular positions in the field. After Monday’s game, Hernandez told Pike that he wanted to catch; the position which he played during his All-State career at A.C. Flora.
Pike said he appreciated the gesture but probably not as much as did Butler and Abbott who were spared from getting behind the plate on another hot night.
“Josh knows our situation,” Pike said of the UNC-Wilmington signee. “He was advised not to catch but we’ve had so many injuries these past couple of weeks … He’s been a good team player. He knows we’ve been struggling a little bit with injuries. Thank God, he was able to catch for us tonight.”
While Hernandez, who was joined in the multi-hit club on Tuesday by Robinson, Salmond, Beckley and Hough with two hits each as KC’s second, third, fourth and fifth batters combined for 11 hits, helped a battered catching corps, it may take more than that for what has become a paper-thin Post 17 pitching staff which is wearing down in spite of Pike’s making sure they stay at or near 90 pitches.
On Wednesday, Salmond was expected to get the starting nod. The team’s regular shortstop has become their third starter over the past three weeks. Pike is hoping to get five innings out of the right-hander. What happens after that is anybody’s guess, including Pike.
“We’ll see how everyone feels,” Pike said with his team on the cusp of elimination. “We’ll start out with Bradwin (on Wednesday) and go from there. We just have to keep battling.”
Keeping POSTed: Jordan O’Cain, who caught for C-N on Tuesday, is a former Post 17 player who attended and played for Lugoff-Elgin High School before transferring to Chapin High School … If Tuesday was KC’s final home game of the season, the locals finished with an 8-2 record at American Legion Park with both losses to teams still playing in Chapin-Newberry and Sumter … The KC injury list continues to grow. In what has been trimmed to a 16-player roster due to earlier defections, Cam Holley has missed the past two-plus weeks after suffering a knee injury which will require surgery later this month. Pitcher Brandon Dow is having problems with his right (throwing) arm. On Tuesday, it appeared as if Brock Robinson could have his name added to the list as he went down with what appeared to have been a hamstring injury after running out an infield single in the seventh. His place in the order was taken by Josh Boone, whose availability this season has been limited by a labrum injury … C-N draws from six high schools along the I-26 corridor including Clinton and extending to Dutch Fork.