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Sumter spoils Demons’ plans for a Friday night ‘sweep over’, 9-8
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LUGOFF-ELGIN’S JAKE LAFFIN (3) is congratulated by his teammates after hitting a first inning home run in Friday’s 9-8 loss to visiting Sumter at Optimist Field. - photo by Tom Didato/C-I
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L-E’S HEATH STOKES PULLS his bat back after squaring to bunt on a high pitch in Friday’s Region 4-5A series finale with Sumter.

Hoping to do some Friday night housework, the Lugoff-Elgin baseball team was left with having to clean up the mess left by visiting Sumter.

Having won the first two of its three-game series with Sumter, the Demons were unable to come away with the three-game sweep over its Region 4-5A foes. The Gamecocks scored two runs in the top of the seventh and then held on for dear life in the bottom half of the inning to leave Optimist Field with a 9-8 victory to avoid a three-game sweep.

L-E (4-3-1, 2-1 in 4-5A) had the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the seventh only for SHS reliever Drake Thames get out of the mess unscathed by getting a force at home for the second out before closing the nearly three-hour contest with a swinging strikeout to end the evening.

“Congratulations to Sumter,” said L-E head coach Randy Stokes whose team held a 4-1 lead after one frame and then trailed, 7-6, after three. “We had our opportunities. I’d like to rewind and say, ‘We’ll give you 9-8 and give y’all the bases loaded with one out. I would have taken that.’

“We put ourselves in a position to win it at the end of the game. It just didn’t work out.”

In a game which started 15 minutes late due to an early evening rain shower, the Demons collected 10 hits from eight different players with Sawyer Reeves and Will Morris having two-hit nights. Sumter did its damage on a dozen hits with three of those coming from catcher S.B. Ducoum, whose single in a two-run top of the seventh plated Jackson Hoshour with the running run. It was Ducoum’s fourth RBI of the game.

Sumter trailed, 8-7, going into its final at-bat in the seventh against Heath Erwin. The L-E reliever was making his varsity mound debut and his effort on Friday was almost all but forgotten in the loss.

Erwin, a junior right-hander, worked 4.2 innings, allowing five hits while giving up a pair of earned runs. He also fanned three batters in a 79-pitch stint in which, at one time, he set down six consecutive batters.

“I was real impressed with Heath. He’s going to get a lot more innings for us,” Stokes said. “I feel like his confidence grew as the night went on. He threw the ball really well. 

“We really didn’t know what to expect from Heath tonight. It was just that time of the year to put his out there and see what happens.”

After not having scored a run in the fourth through sixth innings, the guests received a leadoff double to left center from their starter, Bryce Lyons, to start the top of the seventh. After being bunted over to third, pinch-hitter Josh Bryant was hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners with one gone before Bryant was replaced at first by pinch-runner Brandon Arnold.

Arnold would be thrown out at second on a Hoshour fielders’ choice to shortstop which allowed Lyons to score the eighth and tying run. 

Following an intentional walk being issued to Trey Yates, Ducoum sent a liner to left for a single which drove Hoshour home from second with the eventual winning run, but only after Hoshour got his hand across the plate to just beat a strike thrown from L-E leftfielder Ty Dooley on which catcher Dalton Reeves applied the tag on Hoshour’s helmet on the bang-bang play. Stokes came out of the dugout to ask the home plate umpire what he saw on the play at the plate. The Demons’ skipper returned to the dugout satisfied with the explanation which he was given.

“He just said (Hoshour) got his hand in. That was probably the right call. I’m not going to question him,” Stokes said of his brief conversation. “I tell our kids all the time that if you play well enough, the outcome of the game won’t be left up to the umpires.”

With the bases loaded and two gone in the top of the seventh, Brandon Lankford came on for Erwin and got the final out with a called third strike punch out.

Next, came the Demons’ turn against Thames, who went five innings of relief while allowing two runs on six hits with two strikeouts.

Lankford opened the home half of the seventh by reaching on an error. He went to second on a Heath Stokes sacrifice bunt. Mason Cassady’s opposite field single to the right field line put runners on first and third with one gone for J.C. LeGrand who was hit by a pitch to load the bases as Thames found himself on the ropes only to  make a sliding grab to get a comebacker which he flipped to Ducoum at the plate in time to get Lankford before his game-finishing strikeout.

Both sides were able to find early success against the opposing starting pitchers. Sumter got to Aaron Staples for a run in the top of the first only for the Demons to hang up a four-spot in its first go-through against Lyons.

LeGrand got aboard to touch things off in the bottom of the first by legging out a leadoff bunt single. He scored from first on a Sawyer Reeves double to center. With one gone, Walker Branham worked his way for a walk which was followed by Jake Laffin getting his drive into the jet stream with the ball clanking off a truck located behind the fence in left center for a three-run homer and a 4-1 L-E lead.

Sumter’s response came in the second with Ducoum belting a three-run, two-out double which skirted the left field line to even things at 4-4.

The Gamecocks added three more in the third with Wylie Coker drawing a walk before a Lyons single ended Staples’ night in favor of Erwin. With one gone, Arnold was hit to jam the bags for Hoshour, who sent a sacrifice fly to center. A Yates single knocked in Lyons with Arnold coming home from first on the play due to a throwing error as Sumter before Lankford loaded the bases as he was hit by what was Lyons’ final pitch of the game. Heath Stokes grounded into a fielders’ choice to bring Laffin home. With two gone, LeGrand’s fly ball to center was dropped as Caleb McDonald, running for Dalton Reeves, scored to make it 7-6.

The Demons took the lead with a two-out rally in the fifth.

Cassady got on with a fielders’ choice and promptly stole second. After a LeGrand walk, Sawyer Reeves and Morris had consecutive RBI singles to center with Reeves getting thrown out at third on Morris’ hit to end the inning with the hosts on top, 8-7.

“We had our opportunities tonight,” Stokes said. “I’ll go on the record as saying that I’ll take (the blame) for making some of the calls that probably cost us the game tonight.

“Now, we regroup; we get Spring Valley, and we’ll try to win a series against those guys. You keep winning series and you’ll be in (the playoffs.) 

“It would have been nice to have won three this week, but that’s baseball … beating somebody three times in a row doesn’t happen a lot. Not even in the big leagues.”