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Split puts P-17ers on the brink of winning league title
Stokes web
HEATH STOKES EARNED HIS fourth win in as many decisions for Kershaw County Post 17 by throwing a complete game in Friday’s nightcap of a doubleheader with West Columbia. - photo by Tom Didato/C-I

Heath Stokes was scheduled to have all for wisdom teeth removed last Friday. We’re guessing this was more fun.

Stokes, a rising senior at Lugoff-Elgin, threw a five-inning complete game to give visiting Kershaw County a split of Friday’s League III doubleheader with West Columbia in a twinbill played at Brookland-Cayce High School.

After dropping the opener, 7-5, KC took the nightcap from Post 79, 10-6, to improve to 7-3 in league play. The evening got better for the locals who learned that second-place Lexington dropped both ends of its doubleheader with Aiken, falling, 12-2, in the opener and 8-3 in game two as Post 7 dropped to 5-5 in League III play.

With its win over West Columbia and Lexington losing two games, KC Post 17 clinched, at least, a share of its second consecutive League III title. A victory over Lexington either last night in Camden or, Wednesday in Lexington would give Stephen Carmon’s troops the outright league crown.

“That was huge,” Carmon said as to the news later that night about Lexington’s being swept by Aiken. “If we would have just taken care of business on Friday, we would already have had the league wrapped up. It is what it is, though … we lost that first game (on Friday.)

“We just have to win (Monday) and, if we do that, we win the league.”

More about what could be a mess of a playoff chase in League III later in the game notes. For now, the 17ers were put in almost must-win territory after dropping a first game in which West Columbia broke a 1-1 tie with a six-run second inning to grab a 7-1 advantage which the guests whittled down to a pair in the fifth.

In the second game, Carmon sent Stokes to the hill and the lefty scattered eight hits while fanning three batters and not issuing a walk as he improved to 4-0 on the season.

Stokes, who delivered the game-winning hit two nights earlier in a 6-3 victory over Aiken, was backed by a KC offense which blew things open with a seven-run third to go on top for keeps at 8-2.

“Heath is such a competitor. We feel confident playing anybody when we put him out there,” Carmon said. “He’s going to be a big part of our team, going forward, as we try to make it to the state finals.”

West Columbia got to Stokes for a pair in the top of the first to go on top, 2-0.

KC chopped a lead off the deficit with one in the second as J.C. LeGrand rapped a two-out single to right, took second on a passed ball and scored on Dalton Reeves’ single to center.

An inning later, the visitors jumped on and chased Ryan Wiliamson from the box by sending 13 batters to the plate while collecting four hits in the seven-run rally. Bradwin Salmond led off by being hit by a pitch and stealing second. With one gone, John Lanier walked before both runners came home when Wynston Dyer blasted a three-run bomb to right center to give KC a 4-2 lead.

Sawyer Reeves kept things going by drawing a walk followed by LeGrand’s second single of the game. A walk to Dalton Reeves loaded the bases for Salmond whose single to right plated Sawyer Reeves and LeGrand. A bases loaded walk to Lanier brought the eighth run across.

The 17ers tacked on two more runs in the fifth on back-to-back singles from Lanier and Da’Avion Sumpter before Post 79 threw a scare into KC by scoring four runs in the home portion of the fifth including Dalton Mims’ three-run, two-out blast.

“We made some adjustments in the second game,” Carmon said as to his team’s approach at the plate while playing in the cozy confines in Cayce. “We started playing our game and not trying to lift and drive pitches in that small ballpark. We got guys on base and when we do that, we’ll score runs because we have good hitters all the way through our lineup.”

KC scored its 10 runs by having nine hits. Sumpter had a two-hit, three-RBI game while Dyer drove in a trio of runs, as well, with his second home run of the season.

West Columbia used the home field to its advantage in the opener as Post 79 blasted three home runs its six-run second frame. Mims led off the second with a solo shot to left before Pierce Nance made it back-to-back blasts with a solo homer to put the hosts on top, 3-1. Brandon Caughman’s two-run, two-out round tripper extended the lead to 7-1.

Carmon sent Zack Reynolds (3-1) to the mound after the righty sat out last week’s games while nursing an injured thumb on his pitching hand. 

“They play in a small ballpark and we left some pitches up,” Carmon said of the second inning. “They put some good swings on balls which probably would have been outs had we played at our place. That’s just the way it goes. When you play in smaller ballparks, you can’t leave pitches up because fly balls can leave the yard.

“We were only playing five innings on Friday. A big inning like that hurts you in a short game.”

The visitors cut the deficit to 7-4 by putting up a three-spot in the fourth which started with a Khyree Miller double and a Lanier walk. Miller scored on a wild pitch while Noah Rabon singled pinch-runner Justin Dorton home before scoring on Salmond’s double.

An inning later, KC scored a run with two outs as Miller singled, went to third on Lanier’s double to center before scoring on a wild pitch to make it 7-5.

Carmon said his team got caught up in B-C’s small dimensions and strayed from their normal approach at the plate.

“I felt like if the game was seven innings that we would have had a good chance at winning it,” Carmon said. “We had some bad at-bats early in the game, but we were locked in later. We just ran out of innings.”

Miller had a two-hit game in the loss.

League III race tightens up: Until Friday, the League III race looked like a two-team battle between Post 17 and Lexington. That all changed after the results of the doubleheaders in Cayce and Aiken. If KC wins one of its final two league games with Lexington, it will take the league championship and will play League I runner-up Orangeburg in the second round of the best-of-five state playoffs which begin Monday, July 15. If the 17ers drop both games, it will be no worse than a second seed.

The second place finisher from League III meets the League II runner-up --- either Florence or Sumter --- in the second round while the third-place entry from League III will play in the best-of-three first round series against the third-place entry from League I which is, presently, Manning-Santee.

That part of the equation is cut and dried, for the most part. Things could get sticky should KC take two from Lexington which could fall from first to fourth and sit out the postseason.

Lexington (5-5) is a half-game up on Aiken (5-6) while West Columbia is still in the postseason mix at 4-7. Aiken and West Columbia were scheduled to have played their season finale on Monday. An Aiken win combined with two Lexington losses puts Aiken in second place with Lexington dropping to third. A West Columbia win over Aiken and two Lexington losses will leave a three-way tie for second with the trio all with 5-7 records.