Alex Canino leaped from the pitcher’s mound, smacking his glove with his right hand in celebration before landing on the infield grass after Lexington’s Brett McEwen watched a called third strike on the outside corner to put the final touches on Monday’s 7-5 Kershaw County win.
Canino, a 5-foot-6 sidearm-throwing righty, came on in relief of KC starter Justin Dorton in the middle of the top of the seventh in a 7-5 game with no outs and runners on first and second with the top of the Grizzlies’ order due up. All Canino would do was to get two fly ball outs to Bradwin Salmond in center field before punching out McEwen to earn the save in a key League III game played at American Legion Park.
The victory gave the hosts a 5-1 mark in league play while they improved to 11-1 with their fifth straight win. The visitors from Post 7 fell to 3-3 in League III heading into Tuesday’s second of four games with KC.
With the three-out save, Canino put the final touches on Dorton’s fourth win in as many starts this season. The 6-foot-1 lefty, who was touched up for five runs on eight hits with three strikeouts and two walks, has now won all 17 of his decisions in two-plus seasons with the 17ers.
On Monday, however, it was Canino, at first razzed by the Lexington bench, who had the last laugh.
“When he went in to pitch,” KC head coach Stephen Carmon said of Canino, “some of the guys from the other team were giving him some crap about his being small and not throwing hard. He got in there on that last batter and gassed him up.”
Dorton took the mound in the seventh with a 7-3 lead after the 17ers scored a run in the bottom of the sixth. Eric Beebe led off the seventh with a bloop single to shallow left before moving to second on a wild pitch. An RBI single to right from pinch-hitter Ryan DeRienzo made it 7-4. When Owen Pickle worked a walk to put men on first and second with no outs, it brought Carmon from the dugout with Canino in tow.
Dorton threw 92 pitches on a humid evening before being lifted with Noah Lebron coming to bat. The Lexington leadoff man advanced DeRienzo to third with a deep fly ball to Salmond for the first out. Another fly to center from Matt Willis plated DeRienzo to chop the deficit to two runs before Canino whiffed McEwen with the dangerous Noah Huthmaker in the on-deck circle.
“You’re changing from left (Dorton) to right (Canino) and then, you have Canino who drops down,” P-17 head coach Stephen Carmon said as to the different styles which Lexington faced in the final frame.
“Canino’s little and he’s real low to the ground. It changes the eye level, a lot. Canino does such a good job of changing your timing up. He can come over the top and run it up there on you or, he can drop it down low and make you get out on your front foot.”
Just the fact that the 17ers won this game is a bit of a head-scratcher as the visitors held an 8-4 advantage in hits. Half of KC’s total came in a four-run third frame in which P-17 rallied from a 3-1 deficit against Francis Marion signee Brayden Fowler.
Salmond led off the third with a walk. Khyree Miller followed with a ground ball to third, but the throw to try and get Salmond at second sailed into the outfield as Salmond pulled in at third base. Jake Laffin’s sacrifice fly to center drove in the first run. With one gone, John Lanier lined a single to right before Da’Avion Sumpter drew a walk to load the bases for J.C. LeGrand, who ripped a two-run single to right to put the 17ers on top for keeps at 4-3. Sawyer Reeves tacked on the fifth run when he sent a sac fly to center to plate Sumpter.
Being patient at the plate and putting the ball in play paid dividends for KC which had the first of three sac flies on the night come in the second when Dalton Reeves sent a two-strike pitch to Willis in center as Sumpter, who drilled a booming leadoff double off the fence in left, scored the first P-17 run.
“We did a great job of situational hitting tonight when we had guys on third with less than two outs and getting a sac fly,” Carmon said. “That’s the kind of stuff you need to have to win close games. You can’t always get a hit. You have to move people over and then, get them in with a sac fly like we did.”
Fowler was staked to a 2-0 lead as the guests got to Dorton for a pair in a top of the second which could have been worse had it not been for a double play with runners on the corners with two men having already scored. An inning later, McEwen drove in Pickle with a sac fly as the visitors had runners on first and second with one gone only for Dorton to get out of the jam thanks to a 6-4-3 inning-ending double play.
Having played two non-league games and missing several players last week, Carmon figured his team could have a slow start. KC committed an error which led to the second Lexington run and looked a bit rusty in the early going on Monday before righting the ship.
“To start the game,” Carmon said, “I think some of our guys had a little vacation carryover. It’s like I tell them, baseball is not a game where you can take a week off because it’s all about timing. We gave them a run or two and thankfully, they gave us a run back. Then, we got locked in and played like we usually play on defense.”
The 17ers tacked on a seventh run in the sixth which did not look important until the Grizzlies put their first three men on base in the seventh.
Dalton Reeves reached on a one-out error in the sixth in what would be Fowler’s final batter in a 92-pitch night. With courtesy runner Noah Rabon on first and with reliever Jack Wood on the mound, Rabon swiped second and scored the seventh KC run on a passed ball to give Dorton a four-run cushion.
Four different players had hits for the winners who were on the receiving end of six walks.
Coming into the contest, KC had outscored its opponents by an average score of 8-2. Playing a game in which they had to work for the win was something which Carmon said will help his team down the road.
“It’s good to have a close one that challenges them a little bit,” Carmon said. “We got a little comfortable there having a 7-3 lead and hoping Dorton could finish it out. Unfortunately, he got a little tired, got behind in the count and had some calls go against him. But Canino came in and shut the door.
“That’s a good team we played and it was good for our guys to have this type of game during the regular season which was like a playoff game because we haven’t had a game like that, yet.”
Keeping POSTed: Canino, a 2019 Blythewood High grad and Limestone signee, threw just 11 pitches --- eight of those for strikes --- to earn his first save of the season. Earlier this year, he worked the first 6.2 innings to get the win in an 8-2 victory over Florence in the championship game of the Florence Post 1 Tournament … With Monday’s victory, Post 17 extended its lead atop the League III standings to two games over both Lexington and West Columbia at the halfway mark of the 12-game league season … If the season ended following Monday’s games, Post 17 would be meeting the second-place team from League I in the second round of the best-of-five state playoffs --- starting July 15 --- after having earned the first round bye which goes to the first and second place teams. Currently, Hampton leads Orangeburg by one game for second place in League I with a 5-3 record ... The 17ers have the weekend off before playing three games next week starting with home games on Tuesday and Wednesday with former longtime League III rival and current League II leader Sumter on Tuesday at American Legion Park followed by a League III game with Aiken --- to close out that four-game series --- on Wednesday. Both games have 7 p.m. starts. On Friday, the locals make the trip to Brookland-Cayce High School to meet West Columbia in a regularly scheduled League III game which also has a 7 p.m. start ... Carmon said West Columbia officials have not decided on what they want to do about the rain-interrupted game with Kershaw County from June 5. In that contest, Post 17 held a 4-1 lead and was still batting in the top of the third before torrential rains ended things. Carmon has offered to finish that game next Friday and play the scheduled game after the completion of the suspended contest ... As of Thursday, P-17 led League III with a 5-2 record followed by Lexington at 4-3 with Aiken and West Columbia both sporting 2-4 records.