New classification. New region. New way of doing things.
Making its Region 4-5A conference debut, Lugoff-Elgin scored all its runs in its final four at-bats to come away with a 7-2 victory over visiting Sumter Monday night at Optimist Field. Two nights later in Sumter, the Demons used a pair of wild pitches in the 10th inning to leave the Gamecock city with a 7-6 win.
The Demons will go for the three-game series sweep tonight’s finale at Optimist Field.
The wins gave the Demons a 4-2-1 record in what was a fresh start on the heels of last Thursday’s non-conference loss to visiting Midland Valley.
“We knew what was expected of us,” said L-E head coach Randy Stokes of his team’s first foray into league play as a 5A entry. “We talked to our kids about how important our 12 conference games are going to be for us and how they determine if you make the playoffs or, not. When it’s all said and done, you have to win your conference games.”
L-E seemingly had things going its way in carrying a 6-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh only to see the Gamecocks explode for four runs to send the game into extra innings on Wednesday.
With two gone in the top of the 10th, Dalton Reeves sent a single to center before the L-E catcher was replaced on first base by Heath Erwin. A walk to Brandon Lankford was followed by a pair of wild pitches which allowed Erwin to take third on the first and score on the second.
In the bottom of the 10th, working with a one-run lead, L-E reliever Witt Branham pitched around a one-out Jackson Hoshour single by getting Arnold Brandon to line out to Sawyer Reeves at second base who threw behind Hoshour to Jake Laffin at first base to complete the double play.
The line out came on the 112th pitch of the night from Branham, who came on in relief of starter Walker Branham --- who is battling his way through tendonitis issues --- to start the fifth inning. All Witt Branham would do was work six innings of relief, allowing one earned run while holding down the fort for the Demons.
“Witt does a good job of throwing a lot of strikes,” Stokes said. “Witt’s a competitor who goes out there and competes. Nothing seems to bother him.”
Trailing, 1-0, the Demons got to SHS starter Jacob Holladay for three runs in the fourth starting with Walker Branham reaching on a one-out error. Laffin followed with a single to left before Dalton Reeves singled home Branham with the tying run.
A Brandon Lankford single drove in Laffin while a Heath Stokes sacrifice fly to right brought in the third L-E run.
The Demons answered a solo Sumter run in the fifth with three in the top of the seventh.
Ty Dooley opened the seventh with an infield single. With two outs and Dooley on second and Will Morris on first with a walk, an error after a Walker Branham base hit plated Dooley. Laffin then singled to drive in Morris and Branham for the 6-2 lead.
“I felt pretty good about it,” Stokes said of carrying a four-run bulge into the bottom of the seventh.
Stokes’ disposition changed as Sumter scored four times in their half of the seventh. On three separate occasions, the Demons were within a pitch of closing out the game only for the Gamecocks to come up with a game-extending base hit including Trey Yates’ two-run double, his third hit of the night, which knotted things at 6-6. The hosts had runners on second and third with two gone in the seventh only for Witt Branham to get out of the jam with a strikeout.
L-E did nothing with the bats in the eighth and ninth and were down to two outs in the 10th before Dalton Reeves kept the game going with his single. Sumter threatened in the ninth, filling the bags only for Witt Branham to induce an inning-ending double play ground ball to keep the game going.
Sumter helped L-E along by committing four errors. Led by three hits and two RBI from Laffin along with two-hit nights from Dooley and Dalton Reeves, the guests had 11 hits to Sumter’s 13.
“We tried to hit the ball on the ground and they gave us a lot of base runners with errors,” Stokes said. “We had some good at-bats, though. We faced a very good pitcher in the Holladay kid, who went the first nine innings for them. He has a good arm.”
When the two sides meet tonight in a 6:30 p.m. start at Optimist Field, Stokes said he expects to hand the ball to sophomore lefty Aaron Staples (1-1) in the finale of a set which has been heated, both on and off the field.
“That was a good enviroment for our kids to play in,” Stokes said of Wednesday’s game in Sumter. “It was a hostile environment.”
Demons protect home field: Led by a three-hit night from senior outfielder and red-hot Brandon Lankford, L-E tagged a quartet of Gamecock pitchers for nine hits with seven of those coming in the third through sixth frames.
“I thought our kids made some good adjustments at the plate after we had 11 flyouts against Midland Valley,” Stokes said. “We really concentrated on hitting the ball up the middle and trying to keep the ball on the ground and force Sumter to have to make plays.
“The name of our game is putting the ball in play and make the other team have to play defense.”
Sumter managed six hits off L-E starter Zack Reynolds, who went the distance throwing just 83 pitches while fanning three and walking a pair of batters in an economical mound performance.
“Zack is a strike-throwing machine who is going to get a lot of wins for us. He threw three or less pitches to 17 batters,” Stokes said of his junior right-hander. “He’s just such a competitor and he does a great job of staying focused when things don’t go his way. He is real business-like on the mound.”
Sumter scored the game’s first run --- of the unearned variety --- in the third to go on top, 1-0.
The hosts got to SHS starter Seth Posey for a pair in the home half of the third as J.C. LeGrand drew a one-out walk and advanced to second on an error. Will Morris then hit a grounder to shortstop which was booted for an error which allowed LeGrand to score from second with the tying run. Jake Laffin later singled to left to drive in Morris for the 2-1 lead.
L-E tacked on a third run in the fourth as Heath Stokes walked and scored from second when LeGrand’s ground ball to first went into right field for an error.
An inning later, the Demons added two more runs to extend their lead to 5-1 as Laffin sent a leadoff single to center before stealing second. Dalton Reeves followed with a walk before consecutive singles off the bats of Lankford and Stokes plated a run each.
“We had guys come up in big situations and get hits for us in this game. We haven’t had much of that in some of our other games,” Stokes said. “We got big hits when we needed them.”
After Sumter scored one in the top of the sixth, L-E iced this one by hanging up a two-spot. LeGrand started things with a leadoff double to right. He would advance to third on a wild pitch before Sawyer Reeves walked. With runners in scoring position, Laffin grounded into a fielders’ choice which allowed LeGrand to score from second while being chased home by Reeves, who scored the seventh run on the play.
The Demons tweaked their batting order, inserting LeGrand into the leadoff spot with Reeves moved up to the second hole. The move paid off as the pair had a hit each while scoring a combined three runs. Add in that Reeves’ older brother, senior catcher Dalton Reeves, gunned down two would-be base-stealers trying to swipe third and another trying to take second in the early going and the Demons had things going their way on both offense and defense.
“We shook our lineup up at the top of the order and it worked out for us,” Stokes said. “And Dalton’s throwing out three guys on the base paths early in the game shut down their running game.”