Stephen Carmon has been around baseball long enough to know that momentum is only as good as your next day’s pitcher. The second-year Kershaw County American Legion head coach also knew that Florence had an arsenal of arms which it could throw at his squad in their five-game series.
Florence saved its best for fourth as Austin Windham, backed by an offense which scored eight runs in the second inning, limited host Post 17 to two hits as the visiting League II champions advanced to the four-team state tournament by pounding the 17ers, 12-1, to wrap up the third round pairing in four games in a Friday night game at American Legion Park stopped after five innings.
The loss capped a 19-8 campaign for the two-time defending League III champions. Florence (33-4) traveled to meet League II runner-up Sumter in Monday’s state tourney opener at Riley Park. The four-team state tourney field, which includes Fort Mill and Greer, from the Upper State heads to Segra Park in Columbia on Wednesday for the double-elimination event.
Windham, who starred at nearby Robert E. Lee Academy in Bishopville, allowed his first hit of the night when Noah Rabon delivered a two-out single to left. He lost his bid for a shutout when he walked Wynston Dyer with one gone in the fifth. Dyer advanced to third on Dalton Reeves’ opposite field double to right and scored on a two-out wild pitch.
Truth be told, Windham was in cruise control after the Florence offense chased KC starter John Lanier from the box in the middle of a second frame in which the visitors scored eight runs on five hits while taking advantage of four P-17 errors while sending 12 batters to the plate to go out to a 9-0 lead.
“This was the worst game we played all year,” Carmon said following the disappointing finish to the season.
“We made some mistakes and they … the last two days, everything they hit, it didn’t matter if it was hard, off the end of the bat or, if they got jammed, found a hole. When you get lucky like that and you get down in a hole liek we did tonight, it’s hard to fight yourself back out of it.”
The 11-run win came one night after Florence took game three by answering Khyree Miller’s three-run blast to score the next eight runs for a 10-5 win. (See game story below)
Lanier, a Citadel signee and the state’s 5A player of the year this past spring, struggled with his control from the get-go. The lefty plunked leadoff batter Noah Carter with the game’s first pitch before a Dariyan Pendergrass single and a walk to Johnson Hardee loaded the bases with two outs. Carter scored the game’s first run on Owen Taylor’s ground out before Lanier got out of the mess by getting Austin Moore to ground into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
The momentum was stunted by Windham who got P-17 batters to pound the ball into the ground as seven of the first nine outs he recorded were f the ground ball variety on an evening in which he fanned five, walked one and hit a batter.
Things went south quickly for Lanier and the hosts as Post 1 opened the second with Jameson Purvis reaching on an infield error to lead things off. James Weatherford followed with a single before Noah Henderson’s one-out liner to right drove in Purvis with the second and winning run.
A Carter RBI single made it 3-0 before a botched bunt off the bat of Pendergrass jammed the bags for Hardee whose grounder to first brought an errant throw to the plate as Henderson and Carter scored. With runners on second and third, Taylor hit a grounder to second. A throw home allowed Pendergrass to come across with the fifth run.
Lanier was lifted after Moore’s single made it 8-0.
Alex Canino came on for Lanier and the sidewinder gave up an RBI single but stopped the bleeding as the Florence advantage grew to 9-0.
“Lanier wasn’t pitching badly,” Carmon said. “Normally, I wouldn’t have pulled him there, but we made a couple errors, a mental mistake, they hit a couple balls that blooped into the right spot and they had a bunt that we couldn’t field.
“When you give a team a bunch of free base runners, it’s hard to keep a guy in there. I had to try and change the momentum. “
At that point, Carmon attempted to rally the troops once his team returned to the dugout from the field.
“I tried to keep them up,” he said, “but to be honest, I was a little bit down, too. At times like that, it’s hard to not look at the scoreboard and act like it’s a 0-0 game.
“Our guys kept battling and kept fighting. We got one run there at the end … it was nice to not get shut out. It just wasn’t in the cards for us this year.”
The guests tacked on solo runs off Canino in each of the next two frames before scoring one off Rabon, who came on to start the fifth, to build a 12-0 cushion for Windham heading into final half inning of the game and the 17ers’ season.
Following his team’s game two, 6-0 win on Wednesday night, Carmon said the 17ers were far from being at the top of their game in spite of the shutout turned in by Zack Reynolds with Bradwin Salmond providing relief in the seventh. After that contest, Carmon said his team was still reeling from a game one, 4-3 loss in which a ball lost in the early evening sky and a two-out, walk-off walk a controversial ball four ended the night.
On Friday, Carmon said his team never rebounded from the strange circumstances which surrounded the opening contest of the series.
“I think that first game took a lot out of us,” he said. “We came back and won that second game at home, but like I told you then, we didn’t play as well in that game as we did in the first one.
“To lose that first game like we did … number one, it’s not fair to the kids to have an umpire decide the game and, number two, they got so lucky on the fly ball to center that we couldn’t see. We played the better game; we wanted it more than they did and then, to lose like we did it was just hard to fight back from.”
Salmond’s final fling: Friday’s contest was the final one for Salmond, who played what is believed to be a record six seasons for the Post 17. As a 14-year-old in 2014, he was a starter for a KC squad which advanced to the state tournament for the first time in more than 40 seasons under head coach Craig Smith. Two years later, the 2018 L-E graduate was on the 17ers’ state runner-up squad led by head coach Tyler Pike.
In six seasons, Salmond played for four different head coaches: one year for Smith (2014), one for Will Dorton (2015), two for Pike (2016-17) and the past two summers for Carmon while KC advanced to, at least, the second round of the playoffs in each of his years on the squad.
Keeping POSTed: It could be argued that having the state’s top two-ranked teams, Florence number one followed by KC, was not the perfect playoff scenario. Carmon said it would have been better if the two sides met in the state tournament. “I truly believe that in one game, our best versus their best, that we’re going to beat them. Unfortunately, the bracket was what it was.” … The 17ers went 2-4 against Florence this season. KC beat Post 1 in the title game in its own tourney in May before losing the regular season finale … Reportedly, Florence Post 1 Legion officials had one member roaming in front of the P-17 stands on the third base line and another with a video camera beyond the center field fence on Friday for one reason or another … Among Post 17 players with 25 or more at-bats this summer, Dalton Reeves led the squad with a .400 batting average. He was followed by his younger brother Sawyers Reeves with a .359 average. Da’Avion Sumpter (.338), J.C. LeGrand (.328), Wynston Dyer (.326), Jake Laffin (.321) and Bradwin Salmond (.317) rounded out the batters who hit over .300 … On the mound, Justin Dorton finished his three-year career as a P-17er with a 20-1 career record after going 7-1 this summer … Zack Reynolds and Heath Stokes, both rising seniors at Lugoff-Elgin, each finished with 5-1 records in their first Legion campaign