On a night in which offensive fireworks amounted to a firecracker or two, J.C. LeGrand put on a ground display which drew oohs and aahs from the large crowd gathered at American Legion Park on Wednesday.
LeGrand, a 2019 Lugoff-Elgin grad, single-handedly squashed a Florence fourth inning rally by starting an inning-ending double play to preserve a 6-0 Kershaw County lead.
For an encore, the North Greenville signee turned in a second web gem one frame later as he bolted to his right --- from his shortstop position --- tracking down what looked to be a sure-fire Dariyan Pendergrass single and, with his back to the play, fired a under the arm strike to Da’Avion Sumpter at second base to get the force out to end the inning.
LeGrand added one more for the highlight reel in the seventh which saved a base hit and, possibly a run as Post 17 evened the third round pairing at a game apiece with a 6-0 win.
Game three in the best-of-five series was scheduled for Florence on Thursday with game four on tap for tonight at American Legion Park in Camden at 7 p.m. Should a fifth and deciding game be necessary, it will be played on Saturday in Florence. No starting time for that contest had been decided on as of press time Thursday.
LeGrand’s defensive artistry all but overshadowed the effort turned in by his former teammate at L-E, Zack Reynolds. The rising senior right-hander worked into the seventh inning before being lifted after 94 pitches in favor of Bradwin Salmond who completed the shutout while not allowing a hit. Reynolds gave up three hits, had a strikeout and five walks as he improved to 5-1 on the season while lowering his ERA to 2.21.
On any other night, Reynolds would have been the first topic of conversation. Instead, LeGrand stole most of that thunder. No person could appreciate LeGrand’s play more than his head coach, Stephen Carmon, a former standout shortstop at Camden High, Post 17, USC-Aiken and then, with the San Diego Padres’ organization.
“Those were some big-time plays … J.C.’s a big-time player,” Carmon said. ‘I’ve been telling everybody that defensively, you’re not going to find a better high school shortstop than J.C. LeGrand. What he did tonight in those huge moments … he got that hard-hit ball with the bases loaded and made a huge play on a ball that was deep in the hole where you have no chance at getting anybody and he throws the guy out at second.
“He made a bunch of huge plays to keep our six-run lead intact. If they start scratching a run, here or there, they feel like they’re in the game. J.C. was a big part of our win tonight.”
The victory came two nights after the 17ers dropped the opener, 4-3, in a game (see story below) in which a fly pop was lost in the night sky allowing Post 1 to score half its runs. While he and his team left the ir home field having split the first two games, Carmon could not feel like KC should have been playing to clinch the series on Thursday.
“I think both teams know that we played the better game on Monday night,” he said. “They got fortunate with the fly ball that we lost to give them the lead. Sometimes, though, that’s the way it goes. We’re not going to dwell on it. They’re supposed to win at home and we’re supposed to win at home. I told our guys that our goal is to win at home and steal one on the road. We’re still set up for that.”
In a game pushed back a day after late afternoon rain showers Tuesday, both offenses were out of sync as were the respective pitching staffs. While Reynolds gave up an uncharacteristic five walks, Post 1 starter Rae Rae McGirt and fellow lefty Noah Henderson, who came on in relief in the middle of KC’s five-run second inning, combined to issue six free passes with McGirt having four of those including two straight to open the bottom of the second before being lifted in favor of Henderson.
Following a scoreless first in which the hosts had runners on second and third only to come up empty against McGirt, the lefty continued to battle control issues as he walked Jake Laffin and then John Lanier before Henderson walked Wynston Dyer to load the bases with no outs. Laffin was forced at home on Brady White’s grounder to third baseman Austin Moore for the first out.
Noah Rabon plated what turned out to be the winning run as his sacrifice fly to center drove in Lanier. With two gone, Salmond hit a 30-foot squibber off the end of his bat to re-pack the bases for LeGrand, whose walk brought in Dyer to make it 2-0.
An error on Khyree Miller’s grounder to third allowed White to score from third and Salmond from second with the third and fourth runs. The hosts’ first hit, an infield single off the bat of Sumpter scored LeGrand with the fifth run while Miller was gunned down at the plate trying to score from second on the play.
On the night, seven KC runners were thrown out on the base paths including three at the plate. Carmon broached the issue after the contest.
“I think three times tonight that our base runners did not pick me up and ran through a sign,” he said. “We can’t have that happen and, we were fortunate tonight that it didn’t come back to bite us. I addressed it after the game and we’ll clean that up.”
Laffin opened the third by sending a Henderson offering for a leadoff single to center on which he took second when the ball was not fielded cleanly. Dyer then drew a one-out walk and stole second. When the throw from catcher Noah Cater sailed into center field, Laffin came in with the sixth run.
That would be all Reynolds needed, but things got a bit shaky in the fourth as Post used a leadoff single from Will Hardee and consecutive one-out walks to Moore and Jameson Purvis to load the bags with one gone. Gage Weatherford then sent a one-hop rocket LeGrand’s way. The KC shortstop picked the shot with a backhanded stab, dropped a dime to Sumpter at second who threw to Lanier at first for the inning-ending double play.
As if to prove his play in the fourth was not a fluke, LeGrand ramped up the difficulty meter an inning later as he left the infield dirt, while sprinting toward the left field line an delivering a no-look strike to just get Carter at second to end the inning.
Reynolds who battled a cramp in a hamstring and developed a blister on his right thumb during the game continued to battle on a night in which he was not at his best, said his coach.
“Zack didn’t have his best stuff tonight,” Carmon said. “He had some things going against him, but you have to give him credit … he didn’t pitch his best game, but he also didn’t allow a run tonight. A big part of that was our defense, but Zack still has to go out there and throw pitches and get outs. He did a good job with that.”
On offense, the 17ers had to be patient at the plate as three Florence pitchers combined to issue eight walks. The hosts had just four hits with Laffin having his second straight two-hit night. Carmon said it was quality over quantity when describing his team’s offense.
“To be honest,” he said, “pitching and offensively, we didn’t play one of our better games tonight. When you look at the scoreboard and you’re going to say that we did. To be honest, they helped us out a lot tonight. They had a bunch of walks and they made some errors in big moments. We had situations where we put the ball in play.
“Our guys stayed aggressive which is what you have to do which is what you have to do even when you’re not on. You have to put the ball in play and make them make plays. Our boys did a good job of doing that tonight.”
Keeping POSTed: One of largest crowds in many a year for a Post 17 contest turned out for Wednesday’s third game and another big house can be expected for tonight’s game … With Florence head coach Derick Urquhart waiting until the last minute to turn in his starting lineup, Carmon used a little gamesmanship of his own by sending Reynolds and lefty Heath Stokes to warm up in the bullpen so as not to let to let the Post 1 skipper set his batting order to face either a righty or, a southpaw … Carmon and his coaching staff were going to meet after Wednesday’s game to decide who would get the start on Thursday with Stokes, Lanier, Salmond and Alex Canino all in the mix. Should the series go the distance, game one starter Justin Dorton could get the ball Saturday … Tuesday’s scheduled second game was pushed back to an 8 p.m. start time after the first of two storms drenched American Legion Park leading to the 17ers trying to get the field in playing field. The second round of storms, this a lighter one, came in after 5:30 p.m. KC had to inform the umpires of their decision and/or start time by 6 p.m. At that time, the field was not completely ready and Carmon and company did not want to take a chance of more rain coming through and decided to scrap their plans and moved the game back a night. On Wednesday, P-17 pitching coach Ross Hough said the playing field would have been ready for an 8 p.m. start Tuesday, but the team could not take a chance on the weather with the umpires needing to be informed by 6 p.m.