Nine times out of 10, Zac Bowers comes away with a win or, at least, leaves with a no decision. Monday night was that pesky 10th time which people don’t like to talk or think about.
On a nightdue to the fear of inclement weather stopping the game after it started, host Kershaw County American Legion head coach Craig Smith and Sumter Post 15 boss Curtis Johnson decided to push back the start of Monday’s League III showdown at American Legion Park until the threatening weather had passed. When the game was ready to begin nearly an hour after its original 7 p.m. start, a lightning strike delayed play for more than a half hour. Another bolt in the second inning sent both teams to their dugouts before the game was restarted at 9:30 p.m.
Nearly three hours after that, the visiting P-15s return home with a 3-1 victory and another League III crown. KC fell to 8-5 in the circuit.
Along with the night-long rain and the early evening lightning, Johnson and company also had to overcome the one-hit pitching of Bowers, an Erskine signee who left with one gone in the top of the eighth with Sumter holding a 2-0 lead. The guests scored unearned solo runs off Bowers in the fourth and sixth innings with Post 17 errors leading to both runs.
The second run would come on Chris Crawford’s two-out opposite field single --- the lone hit allowed by Bowers --- which drove in Tee Dubose, who got aboard via a one-out error on a dropped fly ball.
In losing for the first time in six decisions this season, Bowers allowed just that one hit. He fanned five batters, walked three and hit one.
“I feel bad for Zac and I told our guys that I feel bad for Zac,” Smith said after Post 17 fell to 8-5 in League III play, a game ahead of third-place Hartsville. “Once again, Zac pitched his tail off. We just failed to make a couple plays defensively that led to a couple runs.”
Not to be outdone, Sumter’s Taylor McFaddin, he of the no-hitter against Dalzell-Shaw in his previous start last week, threw one-run ball on four hits before being lifted in favor of Crawford with two outs in the bottom of the eighth after KC had chopped the lead in half at 2-1. McFaddin pitched his way out of a bases-loaded with one out jam in the third and then came out of the fourth unscathed after Post 17 had runners on first and second with one out. In both instances, McFaddin induced a double-play ground ball to shortstop Phillip Watcher to get out of trouble.
“Taylor McFaddin was good again,” Johnson said. “He was coming off that no-hitter and he threw the ball well. The scouting report I had on (KC) was that they were going to be the best hitting team that we were going to see all year and what did they get, three hits off him tonight?
“He controlled the game. He threw very well.”
A KC two-base error on a Dubose grounder to shortstop to lead off the fourth got the guests in business. After moving to third on Kemper Patton’s sacrifice, Dubose scored the night’s first run on Crawford’s ground out.
That one run loomed large, given the way McFaddin was able to work himself out of the early game jams in which KC’s inability to get a bunt down prevented the beginning of a big inning.
Gunner Smith led off the P-17 second by taking a McFaddin fastball to left for a leadoff single. Not being able to lay down a bunt squandered that chance.
An inning later, the hosts missed tan opportunity to get to McFaddin in a frame in which Austin Hayes delivered a one-out single to right. That was followed by a Russ Radcliff walk with Bradwin Salmond’s chopper along the first base line loading the bases with one out. But McFaddin got out of the jam with a double play ground ball to Watcher at shortstop.
In the fourth, with Gunner Smith on second after reaching on a leadoff error and Lawson Stokes on first following a fielders’ choice, KC was unable to get the bunt down. And with men on first and second with one gone, Watcher fielded another ground ball and turned it into a second straight inning-ending double play.
“In the second and fourth innings,” Smith said, “we had Gunner on first to lead off both innings and we failed to execute the bunt twice. In games like this, that’s what you have to do. You have to execute the routine plays on defense and you have to do the small things at the plate to move the runners over.
“The one time we sacrificed a runner over tonight (in the eighth inning), we scored a run.”
Sumter gave McFaddin a two-run cushion with a run in the sixth when Dubose’s drive to left field went for a one-out, two-base error. Crawford made the 17ers pay for that miscue by sending a two-out RBI single into right field.
McFaddin cruised through the fifth, sixth and seventh frames, retiring the hosts in order each time before KC was able to push across a run and threatened to tie the game in the eighth.
Broderick Gaither, who injured his left ankle in tracking down a drive in the top of the eighth, opened the home half of that inning with a leadoff single to right before being lifted for pinch-runner Christian Flick. Hayes then bunted Flick to second with a sacrifice. Radcliff got on when he was hit by a pitch. Flick moved to third on Salmond’s fly out to right and scored on a wild pitch which allowed Radcliff to move to second base.
Tyler Bowers ended McFaddin’s night by drawing a two-out walk as Johnson summoned Crawford to the mound from his post in center field. Crawford got a pop out to right to end the inning.
Sumter tacked on an insurance run in the ninth with Crawford driving a leadoff single to left. An error on the play allowed him to take second before Javon Martin’s suicide squeeze bunt along the first base line scored Crawford with the third P-15 run and the two-run lead.
Smith admitted to being frustrated in watching Bowers throw a gem of a ballgame, only to have it come undone thanks to the 17ers’ making three errors.
“You’re sitting over there and then, you look at the box score and you see that we had more hits (four) than they did,” Smith said of the combined three-hitter thrown by Bowers and Mike Branham who worked the final inning and two-thirds.
“We out-hit those guys, we pitched right there with them … it frustrates us to death that we lost a game like this. When you play a quality team like Sumter and then, when you hit the playoffs, you have to play clean baseball. To win the close ballgames, you have to play clean baseball. If we don’t play clean baseball in the state playoffs, we’re not going to go very far. We have to clean it up because our pitching staff is good enough to carry us deep into the playoffs.
“We do a lot of things right at different times. If we can just put everything together, we’re a tough team to beat.”
The win, in the first game of the three games in as many nights series which closes at American Legion Park tonight at 7 p.m., gave Johnson and company a 12-1 mark in League III. Even though his team has the league title locked down, Johnson said the P-15s would continue to play the final two games of the series to win as Hartsville (8-6) and KC are left to battle for second place in the six-team circuit and to get home field advantage in the first round of the state tournament which opens July 7.
“It’s a little bit of pressure taken off of us but we still have to play hard. We have to do what’s right for them (KC) and for Hartsville,” Johnson said in looking ahead to the next two games with KC. “This series will help determine what happens to the rest of our league. We still have to go out, play hard and try to win baseball games.”
Smith succinctly wrapped up a long and almost surreal night.
“It was a miserable night with miserable weather, but it was a great baseball game,” said the KC head coach. “Once again, though, we shot ourselves in the foot. We couldn’t have asked for anything more from Zac Bowers. He goes out and gives his all and does it very well … he deserved better than what he got tonight.”
Lower State playoff scenarios still undecided: While the Upper State playoff pairings have been announced and are included on an online site, things are still very much up in the air as it pertains to the Lower State, of which Post 17 is a member.
The first round of the best-of-five series begins Monday, July 7.
As of Monday night, there were questions as to whether or not some programs would continue wanting to play in the post-season. One team which South Carolina American Legion officials were waiting to hear from as to whether they would play next week was League I runner-up Beaufort. Should more than one team pack it in, it would appear as if all six League III squads will be allowed in the Lower State tourney. There are 14 programs for 12 post-season slots in the Lower State.
Keeping POSTed: A Sumter fan standing alongside the P-15 dugout was escorted from the premises in the bottom of the fourth inning by Post 17 athletic director Jeff Davis at the demand of home plate umpire Sam Jones, who was the target of the gentleman’s tirade. Jones stopped the game until the fan had left American Legion Park … Johnson, who coached Post 17 for one season in 2011, said KC was the best team Sumter had faced all season, along with defending state champion Florence … Post 17 (15-7) was coming off a perfect 3-0 weekend to complete play in the Palmetto Invitational with a 4-0 record. The locals pulled off a triple play in one of its wins on Saturday … Smith said he tried to contact Cheraw Post 23 head coach Steve Sellers to find out if and when they would make-up a rained-out League III game with Hartsville. If P-17 and Hartsville finish tied for second place, there will be a tie-breaking game would need to be played, possibly, on Friday.