Privately, Post 17 head coach Stephen Carmon told those close to him that he did not expect Wednesday’s starter, Zack Reynolds, to have an easy go of it as Kershaw County tried to close out its second round state American Legion playoff series with visiting Orangeburg in three games.
It was not that Carmon had lost any faith, at all, in Reynolds. But the rising senior at Lugoff-Elgin was working on 19 days rest which came after sitting out 10 days prior to that with a nagging thumb injury to his throwing hand.
Rust played a factor early on for the right-hander who was razor sharp at the finish as the 17ers closed out Post 4 in three games with a 4-2 win at American Legion Park.
KC (18-5) will meet Florence in a best-of-five third round series beginning Monday (see accompanying box) with the winner advancing to the state championship finals at Segra Park in Columbia on July 31 - Aug. 2.
Reynolds (4-1) closed his 93-pitch, five hitter by retiring the final seven batters he faced --- and 10 of the final 11 --- in working a complete game five-hitter with five strikeouts and a pair of walks.
Carmon was happy, yet not overly surprised, with Reynolds’ effort in the series-clincher.
“We’ve given Zack a little bit of rest because he had a little bit of a weird arm issue earlier this year. He didn’t have pain, but in the Lexington game a few weeks ago, he felt a little snap in his thumb and had some tingling going down his arm,” said the second-year P-17 boss. “We wanted to be cautious and he went to a doctor to have it checked out and who told Zack he was fine.
“We’ve been a little cautious with him and tried to give him a little extra rest. Tonight, he did a great job. He battled. To go a complete game and throwing 90-something pitches after not having pitched for about three weeks … that’s a heck of a job.”
The tingling in Reynolds’ thumb area reoccurred in the bottom of the fourth as he shook his right hand which drew Carmon to the mound. After a few moments, Reynolds fired several balls to second baseman Da’Avion Sumpter, and proclaimed himself fit and proceeded to close with a bang.
“He said there wasn’t any pain and he didn’t want me to take him out,” Carmon said of a visit in which he sent a reliever to get hot in the bullpen. “We watched Zack closely and he said it never bothered him again.”
Reynolds was backed by an offense which was coming off scoring 15 runs on as many hits one night earlier in Orangeburg. He would not be as fortunate as L-E teammate and KC starter Heath Stokes was as the hosts managed just six hits off Post 4 starter Noah Bearden, who worked the first 5.2 innings before being a pitch count casualty after throwing 105 pitches.
The hosts gave Reynolds all the run support he would need in a three-run bottom of the second which looked like it would be much more productive.
Jake Laffin led things off with a single to left before John Lanier drew a walk. Wynston Dyer then scorched a run-scoring single to right for a 1-0 lead as Lanier took third on the play. A Sawyer Reeves ground out plated Lanier with the second run.
Bearden then, in succession, hit Noah Rabon, walked Bradwin Salmond and hit Brady White with a pitch to allow Dyer to come across for the 3-0 lead. Khryee Miller then ripped a sinking liner to third baseman Heston Thompson who got his glove on the ball, stepped on third for the second out while Rabon was in no-man’s land and was tagged out before reaching home for the inning-ending double play.
The guests chopped a run off the deficit in the third as Orangeburg used KC’s lone error of the night to push across a run an inning after it had the bases loaded and came away empty in the second as Reynolds used Rabon’s diving stab of a low liner at third to close the second frame before Reynolds retired the final three batters in order in the third.
Orangeburg took advantage of indecisiveness on the umpires’ part to close the gap to 3-2 by scoring a solo run in the fourth.
With two gone, John Mack walked. After Reynolds worked through his hand issue, Hunter Bauer sent a sinking liner to right on which Laffin left his feet to try and make the catch. At first, the base umpire ruled that Laffin --- who was lying on the ground --- caught the ball for the third out. As several KC players headed to the dugout, Mack kept on running and circled the bases. When the two umpires met, the call was overruled by the home plate umpire who said Laffin dropped the ball but, in the same breath, told Carmon that he did not see the loose ball on the ground as Post 4 closed to within 3-2.
It was one of two calls which went against the hosts who were victim of a first inning double play when it was ruled that Miller, who slid into second base on a ground ball, interfered with the shortstop who never made an attempt to throw to first base.
Carmon later shrugged off both calls and plays.
“We had some calls not go our way, unfortunately, which happens in games. Nobody’s perfect,” he said. “I told our guys that, in the playoffs, you’re going to have games where calls don’t go your way and, maybe, you’re not hitting it as well. You just have to figure out ways to win.”
The 17ers tacked on an important insurance run in the sixth to give Reynolds a tad more breathing room as Miller opened the inning by being hit by a pitch and later scoring when --- after two walks --- pinch-hitter J.C. LeGrand drew a bases-loaded walk to make it 4-2. That run helped allow Reynolds to close out the game without the need of relief help from Salmond, who would have come in had Post 4 put a runner on base in the seventh.
Bearden was one of eight pitchers used by Orangeburg in the series after using five on Tuesday. The righty scattered five hits, fanned a pair of batters, and issued seven walks while plunking three batters. Bearden also got the hosts to hit into nine fly ball outs.
“We were dipping a little bit, at times,” Carmon said after his team stranded 10 runners. “We had runners on base almost every inning, but when it came time to get that big hit, we popped balls up which you can’t do. You can’t try to lift and drive. You have to have a level swing and try to drive through it, hit it hard somewhere and hope for the best.
“Tonight wasn’t our night offensively, but it was good for our guys to win a close game like this and have some pressure put on them.”
Keeping POSTed: In the pre-game meeting with the umpires in which the coaches exchange lineup cards, the home plate umpire told Carmon that American Legion Baseball plays by Major League rules and that the designated hitter could not be used. Carmon had to correct the umpire by telling him that, for the most part, American Legion uses American League rules and the DH is and has been in place for many years … Post 17 was one of three teams which clinched second round series on Wednesday joining Florence and Fort Mill which closed out Lexington and Inman, respectively … With Georgia not sponsoring American Legion baseball, again, this summer, the top two finishers in the S.C. state finals will both head to the Southeast Regional tournament in Tampa … Wednesday’s win was Carmon’s 40th in two years as the KC head coach. He and his team have a 40-13 record over that time. That follows the two-year tenure of Carmon’s predecessor, Tyler Pike, whose teams went a combined 32-16 … The 17ers will carry a .312 team batting average into the Florence series. Among players with more than 30 at-bats, Dalton Reeves leads the team with a .435 average followed by LeGrand (.362), Sawyer Reeves (.351), Dyer (.341), Salmond (.338), Miller (.321) and Laffin (.311) … On the mound, KC pitchers have worked to a 2.73 earned run average. Justin Dorton and Heath Stokes are 7-0 and 5-0, respectively, with Reynolds posting a 4-1 record.