Just when it looked as if host Horry County was on the verge of tying Tuesday’s second game of the American Legion baseball Lower State playoff game with Kershaw County, Post 17 first baseman Gunner Smith stepped in.
Or, make that, dived in.
With the guests holding a 4-3 lead, Horry County loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth inning. Colby Ard lined a grounder between Smith and second baseman Blake Serpas. Smith took to the air and went across his body to make the play before getting to his knees and firing an underhanded bullet to pitcher Tyler Bowers to end the threat and the game on a bang-bang play at first.
The one-run victory gave the 17ers a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series with Post 111. KC won Monday’s series opener, 11-2.
“That might have been the play of the year for us,” said KC head coach Craig Smith of the stab made by his son to end the contest. “If Blake or Gunner don’t make that play and the ball goes into right field, (Post 11) ties the game, at least, or can win the game if they send the runner from second base home.”
KC sent Grey Hoke to the mound to start the contest and the left-hander worked seven innings and allowed a run in bottom of the first which gave Post 111 a 1-0 lead before the hosts evened things by answering a three-run top of the second with a pair of runs. Bowers came on for Hoke in the eighth to get the two-inning save.
Post 17’s second inning rally opened with Gunner Smith rapping a leadoff single to left. Grayson King followed with a single through the box to center. With one out after Smith was forced out at third on a Lawson Stokes grounder, Bradwin Salmond reached on an infield single to load the bases for Austin Hayes who cleared the bags with a three-run double to the gap in right center.
The guests scored the eventual winning run in the sixth as Bowers sent a leadoff double the opposite way to the alley in left center. After being sacrificed to third by a Gunner Smith bunt, Bowers made it a 4-3 game when he came in on a Stokes fly ball to center field which was dropped for an error which led to the winning run.
Things got a bit dicey in the bottom of the ninth after Horry County had runners on second and third with two outs and Brandon Young, the team’s best hitter, coming to the plate. Craig Smith decided to give Young an intentional walk with first base open rather than to allow Young a chance to drive in one or, both runs. Instead, the bags stayed jammed as the 17ers left with a one-run victory. With one out and a runners on first in the ninth, Graham Herrington hit a screamer to left field on which KC’s Broderick Gaither made a back to the plate catch on which loomed even larger as the inning continued.
The doubles off the bats of Hayes and Bowers were the lone two extra base hits for Post 17 which had four other singles on the night.
“We didn’t play bad, at all,” Craig Smith said after the game played at the spacious field at Conway High School. “We hit the ball hard all night but right at their guys. We probably hit eight or nine line drives which were caught by their outfielders. Their pitchers threw strikes and forced us to hit the ball; we did and their defense made the plays in the field.”