League III standings
KC Post 17 -- 4-1
Lexington -- 3-2
W. Columbia -- 2-3
Aiken -- 1-4
This week’s P-17 games
Tuesday: Dalzell-Shaw at KC Post 17 (7 p.m.)
Friday: KC Post 17 at Dalzell-Shaw (7 p.m.)
Trips to the mound are not always what they appear to be.
In most cases, a visit from the pitching coach allows more time for a reliever to get warm in the bullpen. Other exchanges are to make corrections to the pitcher’s motion or, two get the battery on the same page.
When Kershaw County pitching coach Ross Hough used a time out for a conversation with Post 17 starter Heath Stokes in the middle of a three-run West Columbia top of the fourth inning, his purpose was to instruct the lefty to keep doing what he was doing and that things would turn out all right.
The three-run Post 79 fourth frame turned out to be a blip on Stokes’ radar as KC closed the game by scoring 10 straight runs and walked off the playing field at American Legion Park with a 13-3 win in a game stopped by the 10-run rule in the bottom of the sixth.
The victory gave the hosts an 8-1 overall record and a 4-1 mark in League III action. West Columbia fell to 2-3 in League III play.
Stokes (2-0) would go the full six frames and only allowed an earned run in what second-year P-17 head coach Stephen Carmon called an ugly fourth frame in which the guests used a pair of physical errors along with mental miscues mixed in to even things at 3-3. That led to Hough’s taking a cue from Carmon to have a conversation with the rising senior at Lugoff-Elgin.
“We just went out there and told Heath to keep doing what he was doing because Heath was making good pitches,” Carmon said of the purpose of Hough’s visit. “We weren’t locked in and we weren’t focused in the field. Heath was doing a good job. We just didn’t make plays for him that inning, but we did a good job of bouncing back after that inning.”
On offense, Post 17 collected 12 hits led by three from the red-hot Da’Avion Sumpter, who also drove in three runs, three from Bradwin Salmond and two from J.C. LeGrand as that trio was responsible for eight hits in 11 at-bats while driving in six runs against a trio of Post 79 starters who all had trouble finding the strike zone as they combined to walk eight batters while hitting another four.
“Bradwin’s been swinging it well. He’s seeing the ball well. We changed a little something with his hands and he just so athletic that he could make the adjustment,” Carmon said. “J.C.’s been hitting it good all year and Da’Avion had another three-hit game tonight.”
Justin Allen got the starting nod for the hosts and would wind his way into an out of trouble as he worked into the fifth inning.
The hosts got to Allen in the first as LeGrand drew a one-out walk, advanced to third on Jake Laffin’s single to center and scored the game’s first run on Sumpter’s line drive single to left. Allen avoided further damage in the second in which the 17ers had courtesy runner Justin Dorton thrown out at the plate while trying to score from second on a two-out error on Jaiden Garner’s ground ball to third.
KC was able to tack on two runs in the third which started with a Salmond single to right followed by LeGrand’s single to center. Both runners scored when Khyree Miller’s grounder to short was played into a two-base, two-run error.
Carmon said his offense should have been able to do more against Allen, a lefty, than it did in the first three innings in which the 17ers had three runs on as many hits while being helped along by a pair of West Columbia errors, a pair of walks and a hit batter.
“(Allen) was a bit wild. I thought we did a good eye-take. We had a lot of guys on base, but were unable to get a hit when we needed to get it,” Carmon said. “We got a couple runs here early and then, they helped us out with a couple errors which gave us 3-0 lead. I told our guys that this was the point where we have to keep pounding and pull further away from teams.”
Stokes, meanwhile, was helped by double plays in both of the first two innings while catcher Dalton Reeves threw consecutive seeds to second base to gun down Pierce Nance and Reed Charpia, both trying to swipe second in the third inning.
The three-run advantage disappeared in the top of the fourth which opened with Dylan Williamson’s leadoff triple to the gap in right center followed by Josh Wise’s RBI single to right. With courtesy runner Will Shumpert on second with two gone, Austin Shumpert singled to left only for the ball to ball to the fence as both Shumpert’s crossed the plate on the three-base error which knotted things at 3-3.
Before the 17ers’ defense reached the dugout, they were intercepted by Carmon who held a quick meeting with his players.
“We got stagnant and let them back in the game with errors of our own. I got them in a huddle as we were coming off the field after and said that we gave them three runs on errors and they were not just physical errors, they were lack of focus mistakes on our part,” he said of what was said in the huddle. “We have a really good team, but sometimes, a lack of focus hurts us. I just had to remind them of that and we came back strong and got locked in, again.”
Carmon’s talk led to a run in the bottom of the fourth with Reeves getting on with a one-out walk before being lifted for courtesy runner Dorton who scored the go-head and, eventual winning run on LeGrand’s two-out, two-strike single to center.
The wheels came off for the guests in the bottom of the fifth which started with Sumpter’s leadoff single to left. Miller walked and with one gone, Sawyer Reeves drove Sumpter home with a single to center. An error on the throw to the infield allowed Miller to come home with the sixth run as Reeves landed on second base. That led to Allen’s exit in favor of Nolan Pegues after a 93-pitch outing.
Pegues retired the first batter he faced for the second out only to walk Garner who took second on a wild pitch. Salmond drove home both runners with a liner to right in what would be Pegues’ final batter as he was lifted for Williamson who promptly uncorked a wild pitch before hitting LeGrand. Sumpter then hammered a two-run single to left for a 10-3 lead.
Stokes threw a 1-2-3 sixth, fanning the first two batters he faced, to cap an 83-pitch effort in which he scattered nine hits, fanned six and did not issue a walk.
“The thing about Heath is that he throws strikes and he doesn’t walk a lot of people,” Carmon said of Stokes. “When he pitched a complete game against Sumter in the preseason tournament, it was kind of the same thing as tonight. He got hit, but our defense made plays. I think we made two double plays in that game just like we did tonight.
“I tell all our pitchers that we have a good defense and we have good catchers so we can’t give free passes. We need to let our defense make plays and we’ve done that, most of the year.”
Stokes did not have to return to the mound for the seventh inning as the locals used an RBI single from Dalton Reeves along with a wild pitch and Jake Laffin’s walk-off hit by pitch with the bases jammed which allowed Garner to come in with the 13th run.
Carmon said, top of the fourth notwithstanding, that this is the way his team needs to play in order to have an extended stay in the playoffs.
“When we have guys who are locked in and focused,” he said, “we can be really, really good. Hopefully, this will carry over to the playoffs and we’ll be playing this well as we get toward the end of the season.”
Tonight, the 17ers host Dalzell-Shaw in a two-game non-league series which concludes with a Friday game at Thomas Sumter Academy Field in Boykin. Carmon said not scheduling a League III contest this week was not a coincidence.
“It’s senior beach week. We will have a handful of guys missing; that’s one of those things you have to deal with in Legion baseball,” he said. “That is exactly why I didn’t schedule any league games (this) week. Having said that, we just can’t come out and show up. Dalzell has a good team. We have to come out, play hard and get two wins. We have a lot of depth so we should be able to handle it.”
Keeping POSTed: West Columbia had still not decided on a date to complete Wednesday’s game suspended by rain with KC lead, 4-1, in the third inning. Carmon stated that he told Post 79 officials, in no uncertain terms, that he was only bringing his team to Brookland-Cayce one more time this season --- for a regularly scheduled game June 28. He would like to complete the suspended game and play the regularly scheduled game immediately after that same evening … With his three-hit night on Thursday, Sumpter went 7-for-9 at the plate for the week against West Columbia including two-hit games on Monday and Wednesday. For the season, the USC-Sumter second baseman and 2018 Spring Valley graduate is batting at a .391 clip … Sawyer Reeves leads the 17ers with a .455 average while Sumpter (.391), Brady White (.389), J.C. LeGrand (.364), Jake Laffin (.333) and Salmond (.318) round out the regulars hitting above .300 through nine games … As a team, Post 17 is batting .300 and is scoring better than seven runs a game … Through nine games, the locals have drawn 37 walks while having struck out 37 times.