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Pike hoping there is strength in numbers for Post 17ers
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Post 17 Schedule

May 25 – at Manning

May 27 – Manning

May 30 – Manning


June 6 – Dalzell-Shaw

June 7 – at Dalzell-Shaw

June 9 – Dalzell-Shaw

 

June 13 – at Sumter

June 14 – Sumter

June 16 – at Sumter

 

June 20 – at Orangeburg

June 21 – Orangeburg

June 28 – at Orangeburg

You can never have enough pitching in baseball, especially in American Legion baseball where games are nine innings.

With 10 available arms at his disposal, that should help ease Tyler Pike’s nerves as he prepares for his first go ‘round as Kershaw County Post 17’s head coach.

The locals, who went 1-1 in last weekend’s pre-season tournament in Florence, will kick off the Pike era with Wednesday’s League III opener at Manning-Santee. The 17ers open their six-game slate of home games when Manning-Santee comes to American Legion Park in Camden on Friday in a 7 p.m. start.

When Pike met with assistant coaches Stephen Carmon and Jack LaFrage after the roster had been pared to 18, they took to the coach’s office and listed the names of all the players on the squad who had previously pitched or, could find their way to the mound this summer in a 12-game League III slate. The numbers staggered the trio of former Post 17 standouts.

“We’ll see how things sort out,” Pike said,” but we were looking at the board the other night and we said, ‘We have a lot of guys who can pitch.’ 

“Out of the 18 guys we kept, I think, 13 of them can pitch and can go on the mound, throw strikes and can contribute for us which is what you have to have in nine-inning games.”

In a revamped circuit, KC will play three games each against perennial state contender Sumter, Dalzell-Shaw, Manning-Santee and newcomer, Orangeburg. While admitting he does not know what each team has in tow for this summer, Pike is well aware of Sumter’s lofty status in American Legion baseball in the Palmetto State.

“Obviously, Sumter is Sumter,” Pike said. “They’re always very competitive and they always will be because of the pool and the population that they pick from; they’re always going to have ballplayers. I’ve heard that Orangeburg is going to have a very good team and the same thing can be said for Manning and Dalzell.

“It’s kind of that we’re going in blind but we’ll see how they look, soon enough.”

When tryouts for the 17ers opened, 22 players came out for the senior squad. That number has since been whittled down to 18 with some unexpected surprises joining the team. Included in that group is Ross Hough, a 2015 Camden High grad who redshirted at Erskine this past year and who decided to play one last season at American Legion Park as opposed to playing summer ball in Myrtle Beach.

Bradwin Salmond, a rising junior at Lugoff-Elgin who flirted with the idea of playing summer ball, is back for his third season with KC while A.C. Flora standout Josh Hernandez, who may hear his name called in next month’s MLB Draft, has found a new home to play.

On the other side of the coin, Pike will not have the services of three-year P-17 starter and AA All-State performer Tyler Bowers, who asked for and was granted his release to play for Lancaster Post 31.

“The talent that came out kind of surprised us,” Pike said of last week’s tryouts. “We didn’t really know who was going to show up. We heard stuff and heard stories about who was going to come out and who might not come out.”

With the roster now firm, Pike said he and his staff have more decisions to be made starting with sorting out a congested mound staff. Going into the start of the regular season, it looks as if Hough and AAA All-State selection Devin Beckley (Camden High) have locked down the top two starting spots in what Pike hopes will be a three-man rotation. After those two, Brock Robinson (Lugoff-Elgin) and returnee Nick Stokes (Robert E. Lee Academy) could be used either as a starter or, in a relief role.

“That third starter is up for grabs. It could be Nick, it could be Brock,” Pike said. “Both of those kids are really good pitchers and have starter’s stuff. I’m trying to decide whether we’ll need those guys in a relief role and give us an inning or two a couple times a week or use them as a starter.”

One person not in the mix for a starting role is Camden’s Will Abbott. The Citadel signee is being looked at as possibly being converted into a closer in college. His first steps into that role could start this summer.

“Will Abbott would have been a lock as a third starter but The Citadel is talking to him about possibly playing the closer role when he gets down there,” Pike said. “With that being said, Will wants to try and start acclimating himself into that role. 

“In a perfect world, I would like for Will to be our closer and be that guy who comes on in the eighth or ninth inning and, if we can get the lead, can come in a slam the door for us.”

Others who could find their way to the mound during the season are William Cobb, Parker Gogan and Brandon Dow, all from Camden High, and Lugoff-Elgin’s Josh Boone.

Cobb is engaged in a battle with Gage Branham at first base. Branham played at L-E as a senior in 2015 and did not play collegiate baseball. Both players, Pike said, bring strong defensive skills and good bats to the table.

Cam Holley, who played for the 17ers’ junior team last season and is coming off a breakout campaign at North Central, is battling USC-Lancaster signee Robinson for the starting job at second base. “They have both looked good and both have been everything we thought they would be. They are both good defensively and they are both heady, smart baseball players and they both can put the bat on the ball,” Pike said.

Bowers’ departure left a hole at shortstop. Among the players looking to fill the void is Hernandez, who was a three-year starting catcher at A.C. Flora who is being groomed as a shortstop. 

“Josh Hernandez has the tools to be a good shortstop. He hasn’t worked on that position too much but Stephen (Carmon)is working with him,” Pike said. “He has quick hands and an absolute cannon for an arm.”

Hernandez is being tutored by Carmon, a former All-American shortstop at USC-Aiken who played nearly three seasons of minor league ball in the San Diego Padres’ system after they drafted him in the 10th round of the 2012 MLB Draft. 

The addition of Carmon gives the new staff instant credibility. Pike said the young players will be able to pick Carmon’s brain.

“Stephen brings a wealth of knowledge with him to our team,” Pike said. “He worked with Jose Valentin, who played 14 years in the Major Leagues, and he played under Patrick Murphy, who was the interim manager for the Padres and, before that, was the head coach at Arizona State with Dustin Pedroia and that group. 

“In the two and a half to three years that he played in the minor leagues, he learned so much from those guys. When you talk to Stephen there are so many things that you pick up; just the little things and, you’ll say, ‘Wow, that makes a lot of sense.’”

Stokes, Holley and Robinson would also be shifted to shortstop if need be with Stokes battling Abbott and Beckley for action at third base.

The return of Christian Flick (CHS and Erskine College signee) gives the 17ers stability and a field general behind the plate with Hernandez being a top-notch option should the need arise.

The outfield will have Nick Butler (Camden) playing either of the corner positions with Salmond locked in at centerfield. T.J. White and Matthew Oxendine (Westwood High), John Bailey (Camden), Dow and Boone are also in the mix for playing time in the outfield.

With a logjam in the infield which boasts an abundance of good bats, Pike said it would not surprise him to see some infielders being moved to the outfield. Stokes is one player who saw action in the outfield last year to get his big bat in the order.

“We have so many good infielders,’ Pike said. “As far as second base, third base and shortstop go, we have a lot of depth there to the point where one of those guys is probably going to have to learn to play the outfield so that we can get their stick in our lineup.”

As a young staff which all played together for the 17ers from 2007 through 2009. the latter year when they advanced to the second round of the playoffs, Pike said he is trying to add to a recent stretch of strong campaigns.

In 2014, the 17ers played in the state tournament and finished tied for third under head coach Craig Smith. Last year, in his first season at the helm,  Will Dorton took KC into the postseason only to be knocked from the tourney in the first round.

“The coaching staffs before us were really, really good,” Pike said. “We’re just trying to keep things going as far as making playoffs and doing good things here.”

As for this latest edition of the 17ers, Pike, who took the job less than a month ago, said he wants this team to add to the program’s string of successful campaigns. He said the current young coaching staff, made up of former players in their 20s, has made it easier for them to relate to the young men who they are coaching.

“Make the playoffs,” he said with a laugh when asked the goals of his first squad. “It’s the same thing for me as it was in 2009 when we made that (playoff) run; you just have to start small. 

“Of course, all of us want to win a state championship and do all those great things but you can’t get there without completing these other tasks first. Task one was just getting a ball team together. Task two is, now that we have a team together, let’s learn how to play together. From there, everything else becomes a domino effect. 

“We want to go out and try to win our league and from there, go to state and from there, take it game-by-game. There’s no need to make it anything bigger than what it is. We just have to go out there and keeping winning each game.”