SUMTER --- It may have well been the most dissected and discussed plume of white smoke this side of the Vatican.
With his team trailing, 9-6, with runners on first and second with no outs in the bottom of the seventh inning in Wednesday’s American Legion State Tournament championship round game, Kershaw County’s Bradwin Salmond’s soft opposite field liner hit the left field line. In fact, when the ball landed, chalk flew into the air. The two base runners made their way around the bags while Florence left fielder Benj Jones made a play on the ball.
Everyone was in motion on the play and seemingly, everyone saw it the same way save for the man whose opinion is the only one that matters as the home plate umpire ruled the ball landed in foul territory.
Post 17 third base coach Stephen Carmon, who had the best view of the ball’s landing spot, mildly argued the call as did head coach Tyler Pike but to no avail.
In the end, Post 17 pushed across two runs in the inning but Salmond would ground to second for the first out. The play loomed large as Florence won its fifth state crown in holding off Post 17, 9-8, at steamy Riley Park.
Pike, who was seated outside his team’s third base dugout, was diplomatic when asked about the call which went against his team and helped short-circuit what had ll the the earmarks of being a big inning.
“I didn’t have a view to make an honest judgment on it,” said the first-year P-17 skipper. “It was a close play and, obviously, some of our guys thought it was fair; the umpire thought it was foul. At the end of the day, it’s his call. He called it what it was.”
Post 17, which finished the most successful campaign in its history, ended the season at 16-10. The locals defeated Inman, 10-9 in 10 innings, on Tuesday to advance into the championship round against Florence (36-3), which went 5-0 in the event while winning its second state title in three years for head coach Derek Urquhart.
Had KC won Wednesday morning’s game, it would have forced a second and deciding contest to decide which team would represent the Palmetto State in next week’s Southeast Regional in Asheboro, N.C.
The 17ers went 3-2 in their second state tourney appearance in three years. Pike tipped his cap to Post 1 and Urquhart.
“You’ve got to give it to Florence,” Pike said, “they’re a class A program and Urquhart’s a very good coach and a very good guy. They’ve got a good thing going.”
Salmond’s being called back to the batter’s box brought Nick Butler and Josh Hernandez, who led the inning off with consecutive opposite field singles to right field, back to second and first base, respectively. The pair advanced on Salmond’s ground out.
Florence pitcher Josh Price then could not come up with Devin Beckley’s comebacker and his rushed throw to first went wild allowing Butler to score while Hernandez stopped at third on the play. Christian Flick followed with a sacrifice fly to center for his fourth RBI of the day and seventh of the tournament to make it 9-8.
The seventh would prove to be the 17ers’ final hurrah as Price stuck out the next three batters he faced before Brock Robinson sent a seeing-eye single to center with two gone in the eighth which brought on Brent Herlong. The Post 1 closer did what he needed to by getting a strikeout to end the eighth.
Herlong survived a somewhat bumpy ninth which opened with Jones making a sliding grab of Hernandez’s scorching liner to left. Salmond then flew out to deep center before Devin Beckley’s rocket to Jones led to a Florence dog pile on the pitching mound.
Post 17’s two-run seventh came after Florence broke a 6-6 tie by scoring three times on as many hits in the top of the seventh. The final and eventual winning run came when Lindsey Robinson reached on a two-out error and would later go to third and take home on wild pitches to give the League II champions a 9-6 advantage.
For the third time in the tournament and second against Florence, KC scored three first inning runs which came after starter Parker Gogan fanned two batters in a scoreless first frame.
Gogan, a left-hander who is a rising senior at Camden High, worked two innings in a relief stint in Monday’s 12-6 loss to Florence. Three days later, he was needed to give the 17ers as much as he could to help a worn-down pitching staff in the event this day turned into a doubleheader.
Gogan answered the bell as he worked into the fifth inning. When he left the mound with a 5-2 lead in the top of the fifth, he had allowed two runs while scattering six hits and fanning three batters. Gogan’s performance in miserable conditions allowed Pike some wiggle room with his pitching staff.
“I told Parker before the game the same thing that I tell all these boys when it’s their turn, ‘If you give me an inning, you give me an inning. If you give me two, you give me two. Whatever it is, give me what you’ve got and we’ll roll on to the next guy,’” Pike said. “Parker gave me everything he had.
“We figured we’d let Gogan roll and see how far he would go. He was one of the (few) fresh arms that we had and he went out and did a helluva job for us. That’s a tribute to him.”
Gogan was staked to a three-run lead as his teammates jumped on Post 1 starter Austin Moody early starting with Robinson’s leadoff liner for a double down the left field line. Butler followed with a single to left to put runners on the corners for Hernandez whose grounder to third resulted in Robinson being thrown out at the plate for the first out.
Salmond kept the inning going with a run-scoring single to left which knocked in Butler while Hernandez hustled his way into third base. Beckley made it 2-0 with an RBI single to left and the fourth hit of the frame. Salmond made it 3-0 when he scored from third on Flick’s fielders’ choice.
After Gogan worked a perfect second and had two outs in the third, Florence used three hits --- and a two-out KC error in between --- to score a pair of unearned runs and close the gap to 3-2.
The 17ers continued to get to Moody with a pair in the third as Hernandez drew a one-out walk. Salmond and Beckley then sent back-to-back singles to center with the latter plating Hernandez from second. Flick made it 5-2 with a sac fly to left to bring Salmond home.
An inning later, the home side tacked on a sixth run and extended their lead to 6-2 with Hernandez chasing Moody from the box with a booming double off the wall in left center. Flick would again deliver, this time with a two-out run-scoring sing single to right which came after Beckley was robbed of extra bases when Florence first baseman Richard Green made a leaping snare of Beckley’s rocket.
Things came apart of the 17ers in the sixth and seventh with Florence scoring four times in the sixth on four hits including RBI singles from Lex Tuten and Justin Thompson, a double off the bat of Robinson and Green’s ground out to level things at six.
An inning later, Post 1 scored a pair of unearned runs to give Price and Herlong a one-run lead to work with which they combined to protect.
One day after banging out 18 hits in a win over Inman, the 17ers had 13 of the 28 hits in the loss to Florence. Robinson had his second three-hit game in as many days while Butler, who had four hits on Tuesday, had two more hits as did teammates Hernandez, Salmond and Beckley.
After having survived Tuesday’s slugfest, Pike said that with the pitching staffs showing wear and tear, he had a hunch his team would have to get the bats going again on Wednesday morning.
“I kind of figured it would be a high-scoring game where there would be a lot of hits and a lot of runs scored,” he said. “We kept putting the bat on the ball and kept fighting back. They came back and we kept responding.
“Again, I feel like a broken record, but these boys keep fighting; we never stop fighting. That’s what I’m so proud of.”
Given the heat and the prospect of having to play two games in tropical-like conditions had they won the first game on Wednesday, Pike said his players were there for the duration and were not ready to simply give in to the extreme heat or, and unbeaten Florence entry.
As he looked into their eyes while presenting his players with their tournament medals as they were lined up on the third base line, Pike said he saw a team which was not ready to admit defeat.
“These boys wanted it,” he said. “It was obvious by looking at their faces on the line (after the game.) It was obvious between innings when you looked at our older guys when they came into the dugout.
“It would have been so easy to roll over and let (Florence) win. But you could see it in their faces in the dugout that they wanted to win and that they take this seriously … very seriously.
“We’ll be OK, though. We just have to keep plugging and we’ll roll this over to next year.”