Just when it looked as if Kershaw County Post 17 was ready to put Hartsville in its rear-view mirror, this happens.
On a night in which the 17ers were set to wrap up finishing no worse than second in League III American Legion play, Hartsville handed visiting KC a 13-3 setback Thursday in Kelleytown. The loss sets up an interesting final week of the regular season for the locals.
With its win over Dalzell-Shaw on Wednesday, Sumter guaranteed itself no worse than a tie for the League III crown. It would take the 17ers sweeping a three games in as many nights series with Sumter, which starts at home tonight for Craig Smith’s 17ers, for KC to pull even with the P-15s atop the standings.
Equally important this week, is for Kershaw County to take a game, or two, from Curtis Johnson and company in order to avoid falling into a tie or, worse, ending up a game behind Hartsville and finish in third place in League III. KC enters its series with Sumter sporting an 8-4 league record. Hartsville stands at 8-6 with a make-up game left to be played against Cheraw, which will be the odd man out in League III when it comes to the playoffs as Post 23 has a 3-11 record which puts them last in the six-team circuit.
The scenario for the 17ers unfolds this way: Should KC sweep the 15ers, it would force a Fourth of July tie-breaking game between the two sides. Should Post 17 win two of their three games, it will finish alone in second place. Should the locals win one game from Sumter and should Hartsville beat Cheraw, it would set up a special one-game tie-breaker on the Fourth of July for second place in League III which carries home field advantage in the first round of the state playoffs which begin Monday July 7.
“It’s fairly simple,” Smith said of his team’s situation this week. “If we beat Sumter three times or, once, we play a tie-breaker on Friday against somebody. If we win two games, we have Friday off.”
As for Thursday’s debacle, this contest was tied at 2-2 until Hartsville scored 10 times in the bottom of the fifth to blow this game wide-open. If Post 53 was smacking the ball around Jimmy White Field, Smith said he would have felt better about things in an inning which he called “a fiasco.” Instead, Hartsville scored its 10 runs on five hits, five walks, a passed ball which allowed a run to score, while an error in left field let two runners cross the plate.
What irked the P-17 coach the most, however, were the base on balls issued by his pitchers.
“Walks killed us,” he said. “It was like handing out passes at the bus station.
“The bottom line was that we just did not throw enough strikes to force them into having to put the ball into play. And when you do that, there is no defense for it.”
KC scored a run in the first as leadoff man Russ Radcliff walked and scored on Tyler Bowers’ double to right center.
The visitors staked starting pitcher Grayson King to a 2-0 lead with a run in the third as Radcliff led off with a single, stole second and scored when Bowers’ grounder to second was played into an error.
Hartsville knotted things at 2-2 by scoring a pair in the fourth. The hosts used a hit batter, an error on a sacrifice bunt and then had a pair of ground outs drive in a run each before the roof caved in on the 17ers in the fifth.
After being held at bay on offense by a Hartsville pitcher whose fastball, Smith estimated, was around 70 miles per hour, the 17ers strung together hits by Gunner Smith, Ethan Beasley and Will Detwiler to load the bases. Gunner Smith, who played despite throwing up the entire night and having two of his team’s eight hits, scored when Austin Hayes walked with the bags filled.
“Our approach at the plate was bad,” Craig Smith said. “Against a guy who throws that slow, you have to hit the ball up the middle or, go backside. We were hitting a lot of fly ball outs.
“When you are batting against a pitcher like that, you think that because the ball is coming in slower that you can hit it farther. In fact, with these new (composite) bats, it’s just the opposite. You need to hit to the open areas in the field. We did a good job of that in the sixth inning when we were able to string three hits together.”
Hartsville was able to close this game in six and a half innings with a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth to extend its lead to 10 runs.
After having shored things up on defense over the previous four games, KC committed four miscues in the field on Thursday. Still, Smith said, the walks loomed larger than the errors for a team which had just nine position players available for this game.
Starting second baseman Blake Serpas went to see a doctor regarding the bruise on an ankle sustained when he was hit by a pitch in the game with Manning-Santee on June 18. He could be out as long as three weeks, said Smith who remained hopeful that Serpas could be back before that.
“Blake is just a great kid,” he said. “He showed a lot of heart by trying to play through his injury. He is going to rehab it and hopefully, he can be back next week.”
The KC bench was thinned even more with Christian Flick nursing a thumb injury and Mikey Branham having been out of town on vacation. With Detwiler not being allowed to pick up a ball on the mound or otherwise, per order of his soon-to-be coach at the College of Charleston, Monte Lee, Detwiler is limited to being a hitter only.
“Position-wise, with the lineup we have right now,” Smith said, “I’m glad that we have the flexibility that we have. We are able to put players in different positions than they might be used to playing and they are effective.”
In spite of the loss and his team’s struggles, Smith said he was proud of the 17ers who “did not give up, at all.”
Smith compared this defeat to the 12-2 loss to Dalzell-Shaw in the 17ers’ League III opener. This one came on a night in which he thought his team might be ready to put Hartsville away and lock down, at worst, second place with three games to go.
“It just wasn’t a good night for us,” Smith said. “I had a different feeling going into this game. I thought we were going to throw the ball well and that we were going to hit the ball well but ...”
Keeping POSTed: Smith announced his starting pitchers for the three-game series with Sumter which opens at home tonight at American Legion Park. Zac Bowers (5-0) gets the ball for the opener while Grey Hoke (3-0) gets the nod for Tuesday’s contest at Riley Park. King will take to the hill for Wednesday’s series finale. All games begin at 7 p.m. ... Aside from Hartsville playing Cheraw in a make-up game, the KC vs. Sumter series are the lone three games left to be played on the regular season League III schedule.