MANNING -- Manning-Santee Post 68 head coach Spencer Jordan couldn’t decide what pleased him more -- his team’s pitching, his team’s defense or his team’s clutch hitting -- after Wednesday’s 5-2 victory over Kershaw County Post 17 at Monarch Field.
The names of William Ard and Morgan Morris came up in all areas, though.
Ard threw six solid innings and Morris pitched out of a pair of jams to pick up the victory. Meanwhile, Ard went 2-for-4 at the plate and the duo combined for three runs batted in, including two in a three-run eighth inning that propelled Post 68 to an opening game victory in League III play.
The two teams return to action tonight at American Legion Park in Camden for a 7 p.m. game. The contest will be the first of six regular season home games for the 17ers who have next week off and whose next game is Monday, June 6.
“It was a gutsy effort,” Jordan said. “I’m real pleased with where we are. With the limited amount of practice we’ve had, I couldn’t be more pleased.
“William pitched a great game. He was East Clarendon’s ace and boy he proved it. We put Morgan in and he shut them down. He’s a heck of a little athlete and he worked out of a couple jams.”
That allowed Post 68 enough time to come through with a pair of clutch innings. Manning-Santee plated two runs in the third and then took control in the eighth with a three-run outburst.
Tied 2-2 facing Post 17 reliever Brock Robinson, Hunter Robinson stroked a one-out single and stole second. Ard followed with an RBI single to center --- his second of the night --- and after a pair of KC errors scored another run. Morris finished off the scoring with another RBI single.
“It’s a game of timely hitting and they got the timely hits and we didn’t,” first-year Post 17 head coach Tyler Pike said.
Post 17 struck first in the top of the second. Starting pitcher Nick Stokes reached on a fielder’s choice and with two outs, stole second. A wild pitch put him on third and after a walk, another wild pitch brought him home for a 1-0 KC lead.
M-S rebounded in the bottom of the third with a pair of runs. Will Gardner was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and was sacrificed to second. Taylor Lee brought him home with an RBI single. Two batters later, Ard helped his own cause with a hard-hit grounder that took a wicked hop through short that scored Lee, who had stolen second, to give Post 68 a 2-1 advantage.
Pitching and defense dominated the game through the rest of the first six innings. Ard allowed just four hits in six frames while walking three and striking out one. He worked around a leadoff walk in the fourth, two singles in the fifth and a one-out error in the sixth. His defense was near flawless behind him and catcher Connor Floyd threw out two base runners including one at third.
Stokes was just as solid for KC. The right-hander allowed just three hits through the first six innings with three strikeouts, one walk and two hit batters. He pitched around a leadoff double by Taylor Lee to begin the game and had three perfect innings.
Stokes exited after the seventh inning after stranding Gardner at third base after a two-out single, stolen base and wild pitch had put him 90 feet away from home.
“He really seemed to get stronger as the game went on,” Pike said. “But so did (Ard). We couldn’t get any real solid hits off of him. It was mostly grounders and weak pop-ups.”
Post 17 tied the game in the seventh off new M-S pitcher Kacey Floyd. Cam Holley connected on a one-out single and after a walk, Brock Robinson’s bloop to right field was just out of the reach of Post 68 second baseman Logan Smith to plate Holley and knot the score at 2-2.
Morris came in for M-S to face Robinson and avoided further damage in the inning two batters later by inducing a 1-2-3 double play to keep the score close, which proved huge as the eighth inning unfolded for Post 68.
Morris worked around an error and a hit batter in the ninth to seal the victory for the hosts.