There have been stretches of time in which the Kershaw County American Legion baseball team went more than a full calendar year without being able to get a win over perennial state power Sumter. So, beating the P-15s twice within 24 hours is pretty heady stuff.
On a night in which Post 17 was looking to avoid playing a fourth game in as many days, KC locked up second place League III with a 6-4 victory over visiting Sumter on Wednesday night at a steamy American Legion Park. That came on the heels of the P-17ers’ 4-3, 13-inning triumph on Tuesday in Sumter.
The victory was the second in as many evenings for the hosts who took the three-game series with a Post 15 team which had locked down the league title by taking down KC, 3-1, on Monday.
KC, on the other hand, was playing to avoid a Thursday playoff contest in Hartsville to determine second place behind Sumter in the circuit. With the win, Post 17 finished 10-5, a game ahead of Hartsville which received a forfeit from Cheraw to close out a 9-6 campaign. Sumter’s 12-3 mark topped the six-team circuit. By virtue of its second place finish, KC will have the home field advantage in the first round of the state playoffs which kicks off Monday at 7 p.m. when Horry County comes to Camden for game one of the best-of-five series.
When asked about taking the final two of the three-game series with Sumter, Post 17 head coach took a few seconds to soak it all in before a wide grin broke across his face.
“Wow,” he said after exhaling. “It feels good.
“Second place is a good place to be for the state playoffs, for a number of reasons.”
For eight innings, the P-15s were handcuffed by KC starter Grayson King, who redshirted at Francis Marion University this past season. The right-hander carried a shutout in the ninth inning before a pair of walks to open the final frame led to his being replaced on the mound by Bradwin Salmond, a rising freshman at Lugoff-Elgin.
King closed his night by allowing five hits while striking out four batters and issuing three walks in what was easily his best performance of the season.
“Grayson King went out and gave us what we asked him to give us,” Smith said. “We asked him to get us deep into the ballgame ... to the seventh or, eighth inning and he did just that. He was around the zone all night.
“He hasn’t had his best stuff every time he’s gone out this year but tonight, he threw the ball well. He was all business when he took the mound and he was all business to the end.”
Sumter treated this contest almost as if it were the final exhibition game of the Major League season. Having nothing to gain or lose, Curtis Johnson sent five pitchers to the mound --- starting with lefty Brandon Spittle --- while being liberal in going to his bench as 16 different players took the field for the P-15s which closed League III play with a 12-3 record.
Johnson said ending the League III campaign with consecutive losses did not bother him that much, given that the final two games were played knowing Sumter had wrapped up the league championship.
“We have a bunch of confidence in our guys,” he said. “Last night, it could have gone either way. Tonight, we were trying to get some guys some work.”
King threw blanks at the visitors for the first eight frames before his night came to an end after he issued walks to Phillip Watcher and Kemper Patton to open the ninth. Salmond came on and gave up an RBI single to River Soles as the guests made it a 6-1 game. Taylor Finley followed by getting on with an error to put runners on the corners for Hunter Donlee, who made the first out when shortstop Tyler Bowers fielded a deflected ball of Salmond’s glove and got Donlee at first for the first out while plating Patton with the second run.
Things got interesting when Todd Larrimer’s grounder was booted allowing Soles to come home. Dante Hartman made it a 6-4 game when his grounder to third base brought Finley in. With Larrimer on second and with two gone, Salmond closed the book on this one in getting Javon Martin on a ground out to Lawson Stokes at third base.
Smith said he and pitching coach Will Dorton wanted to give King every opportunity to finish what he started on the mound.
“I wanted it for him bad,” Smith said of King’s bid for a complete game. “After he walked the first batter in the ninth, Will and I looked at each other and decided to let him go another batter. When he walked that man, we decided to go out and get him.
“It was a hot night; a humid night and Grayson pitched his tail off. I’m so proud of him.”
KC scored a solo run in the top of the first off P-15 starter Spittle as leadoff batter Russ Radcliff was hit by a pitch before stealing both second and third. He scored on Gunner Smith’s one out grounder to Jacob Watcher at second base.
The hosts set the tempo on the bases in the first frame, stealing three bases as Smith tried to jump-start his team’s offense.
“We did a good job of running the bases early in the game,” he said. “Our guys did a great job on the base paths tonight. We created some runs and we put ourselves in position to score some runs. Guys did what they had to do to help us manufacture some runs and give us a little breathing room.”
Martin, who came on in relief of Spittle with two gone in the first, was reached for a run in the third as Gunner Smith led the inning off with a single and came home on Christian Flick double to left which got past a diving Chris Crawford.
KC got its leadoff batter on for the third time when Austin Hayes opened the fourth with a single to right and moved to third on a wild pitch. Radcliff, who had three of Post 17’s 10 hits, doubled Hayes in with a liner to left before making it 4-0 as he came in from third on a Bowers single to right.
The hosts scored a solo run in the fifth when Flick legged out an infield single to close the book on Martin, who was lifted in favor of Soles. Flick made it 5-0 when he came in from third on Radcliff’s single through the box.
Two innings later, KC tacked on a sixth run as Flick drew a leadoff walk, took second on a wild pitch and eventually scored on a wild pitch to make it a 6-0 Post 17 lead.
Radcliff had three hits and a pair of RBI from the leadoff spot for KC which also received two-hit nights from Gunner Smith, Hayes and Bowers.
“Russ and Gunner have really been on fire for us lately,” Smith said. “Russ has been doing a great job of getting on base for us. He has a very good understanding of our base running philosophy. Anytime we can get him on, I feel like we can steal a base or two. We didn’t hesitate to steal second and third with him tonight.
“And the guys batting behind him are doing a good job of getting us to the spots in our lineup that we need to get to in order to score runs.
“We had smart hitting tonight. In the first inning, I told Gunner that we needed him to hit a ground ball to the back side and not to try to hit the ball out of the park. He did exactly that.”
Johnson, who coached Post 17 into the state playoffs in 2011, said he could see KC returning to Riley Park in Sumter for the state American Legion Tournament later this month.
“I think we have a chance and they have a really good chance,” he said of the two League III entries making their way through two rounds of the playoffs. “(KC) has a bunch of good arms, a bunch of good players and they are well-coached. They are definitely a state-caliber team and, I think we are, too.”
Keeping POSTed: Had Post 17 lost on Wednesday, it would have had to go to Hartsville for Thursday’s one-game playoff for second place after the locals lost the coin toss … In the three-game, 31-inning series with Sumter, KC outscored the P-15s, 11-10 … After some question as to whether or not they would participate in the state playoffs, Beaufort is in and a sixth team from League III, Cheraw, will not be needed to fill out the 12-team bracket … Post 17 is in the same bracket as League I champion Goose Creek which faces Georgetown in round one.