Stephen Carmon has a fairly simple game plan for Kershaw County to follow if they are to successfully defend their American Legion League III --- albeit with a different cast of teams this summer--- championship.
Following his team’s 6-2 win over visiting West Columbia at American Legion Park on Monday, the second-year Post 17 boss laid out how he would like to see thing play out in a 12-game league campaign in which each team faces each other four times. The strategy is fairly simple; defend your home turf, win your home games and steal a couple on the road, if at all possible.
The task becomes a tad bit easier when Justin Dorton is taking the mound, especially pitching in the 17ers’ spacious digs on Ehrenclou Drive.
With Dorton winning for the 16th time in as many decisions in his two-plus seasons with the local entry, KC improved to 8-1 overall and 3-1 in League III. The four-run win put the hosts back atop the circuit while Post 79 saw its record evened out through four games.
Dorton needed just 77 pitches while scattering seven hits, fanning one and walking a batter in a game which took less than 90 minutes to complete.
“Justin’s so good and he’s so smart,” said Carmon of his left-hander. “He was working quick and throwing a lot of strikes. He was also trusting his defense which, as a pitcher, you have to do. Whether you have a good defense or, not, you have to trust your defense, pitch to contact and the strikeouts will follow. Justin does that and that’s why he has been so successful for us.”
After a rough night in the field and at the plate in last Friday’s 8-0 loss to Aiken, the 17ers committed just one error --- which did not lead to a run --- while collecting seven hits with three of those coming in a two-run fourth which helped give the hosts a 4-0 advantage. In the bottom of the sixth, KC tacked on a pair of insurance runs on three hits to answer a two-run WC sixth.
Putting multiple hits together in the same inning is a positive sign for his team Carmon said.
“We started off the season hot at the plate. We’ve had some guys struggling here lately,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get them to stop pressing and get them to think ‘team’ … what’s best for the team. If you do that, you won’t focus so much on your own stats and getting hits. You’ll focus on what you want to do as a team which is to get on base, move runners over and win the game.
“If you do that, you will get confidence and you won’t get as mad when you make an out. You’re helping the team which is the ultimate goal.”
Dorton induced a double play ball to end a scoreless top of the first before picking off a runner at first base for the second out in the top of the second.
After going down in order against lefty sidewinder Chandler Sox in the first inning, KC got things going with two gone in the second. Da’Avion Sumpter’s single to right was followed by Brady White being plunked in the back with a Sox offering before Heath Stokes was inserted at first base as a courtesy runner for the KC catcher.
What looked to be an inning-ending fly out to deep center off the bat of Noah Rabon turned into the night’s first two runs as the ball glanced off the glove of WC centerfielder Josh Wise as Sumpter and Stokes circled the bases for a 2-0 lead.
Coming on the heels of being shut out in their last outing, Carmon said his team’s jumping two an early lead, regardless of the circumstances, was a welcomed sight.
“That was huge,” Carmon said. “Noah hit that ball hard; it should have been caught. That’s what I tell the guys, hit the ball hard and good things will happen. Don’t focus on where the ball goes, just hit it hard somewhere.”
With Dorton hanging up zeroes, the 17ers’ plate adjustments against Sox, who was 5-1 this past season at USC-Sumter, paid off in the fourth inning which opened with Khyree Miller rapping a leadoff double to left. With one gone, Sumpter’s changed places with his former Spring Valley teammate with an RBI double to nearly the exact same spot as Miller’s bullet.
Sumpter moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on White’s liner through the hole between third and shortstop for a 4-0 lead.
Carmon offered advice to his batters after they were trying to do too much with Sox’s offerings their first time through the order.
“Those guys are always funky and you don’t see a ton of those type of pitchers,” he said. “It takes an at-bat or two to see how his pitches are moving. I told our guys that those guys like to run the ball up and they want you to swing under it and pop it up. Our guys were doing that and we were lifting the ball.
“We made some adjustments, put some good at-bats together and we ended up getting some runs.”
Dorton, who did not allow a Post 79 runner to advance past second base in the first five frames, was tagged for two runs in the sixth. Pierce Nance led off with a single to left, stole second and scored from there on Dylan Williamson’s single to center. Williamson, who swiped second on a pitch in the dirt, cut the lead in half at 4-2 when he scored on a Wise single. That would be it for the hosts, however, as Dorton got fly ball outs to Bradwin Salmond in center and Miller in left for outs two and three.
The 17ers provided Dorton with some wiggle room in the home half of the sixth which started with Miller reaching on an error and stealing second. With one gone, Sumpter hit a squibber that rolled toward into no-man’s land between first and second for his third hit of the night. WC reliever Reece Allen was unable to get a handle on the ball as Miller never stopped in rounding third and taking home on the play.
With Sumpter on third and Stokes on first after White’s one-out single, Rabon popped up a bunt near the first base line which plated Sumpter for the sixth run on the 12-foot base hit.
Sumpter and White had five of the locals’ seven hits with Sumpter’s three-hit night leading the way for the winners who finished the evening a full game ahead of WC and Lexington which improved to 2-2 with a 5-2 win over visiting Aiken on Monday.
Anyone who thought KC was getting a break when longtime rival Sumter was moved into League II this season might want to think again. Even though League III has just four teams, it looks to be one which is balanced and should be interesting come the final week of the season.
“It’s a really tough league. It’s tougher than what I thought it was going to be,” said Carmon whose squad has yet to face Lexington. “Aiken impressed me a lot. They have a good ballclub and they are going to beat a lot of teams.
“I told our guys that if we could take care of business at home and steal one on the road in our series, then we’ll end up finishing first in the league. I think all the teams in this league are going to beat up on each other a little bit. That’s good, though. I’d rather have a league like this than one which as not as good and the competition is not as good. It will get us ready for our playoff run.”
Keeping POSTed: One of the more interested fans at the ballpark on Monday was former Post 17 player, head coach and current College of Charleston pitching coach Will Dorton who made a stop home to take in his brother’s mound performance. The older of the two Dortons, Will, was returning to Charleston after having been recruiting in the Raleigh area … Monday’s game came seven years and one day after Carmon was selected in the 10th round out of USC-Aiken by the San Diego Padres in the 2012 MLB Draft which opened Monday night … Sumpter’s three-hit night raised his average to .316. His eight RBI leads the 17ers … White hiked his average to .389 with his two hits. He is second on the team with seven RBI … Through eight games, KC is 11-for-11 in stolen base attempts with J.C. LeGrand leading the way with three swipes while Salmond and Rabon have two each … In three starts this season, Dorton has allowed 16 hits in 19 innings of work. He is pitching to a 1.84 earned run average … Will Dorton was one of five current or former Post 17 head coaches at the game on Monday. Also in attendance at American Legion Park were Tyler Pike, who is the team’s public address announcer, Dave Roberts, Randy Stokes and, of course, Carmon.
On deck: Following Thursday’s scheduled home game with West Columbia, Kershaw County steps out of League III play next week for a two-game, home and home series against former League III foe Dalzell-Shaw, which was moved to League II this season.
Game one of the series will be played at American Legion Park in Camden next Tuesday at 7 p.m. with the second game to be played at Thomas Sumter Academy’s field next Friday. Both games have 7 p.m. starts.
The 17ers return to League III action on Monday, June 17 when Lexington comes to Camden before the two-game series and two-game week heads to the Lexington Sports Complex the following night. Both games will have a 7 p.m. first pitch.