Suddenly, things are getting interesting in the final charge for playoff seeding in League III American Legion baseball.
After having spent the season’s first three weeks languishing near the bottom of the six-team circuit’s standings, Hartsville has come to life in taking one game from Sumter last week and now, having opened its three-game series with Kershaw County with a victory.
Hartsville used a two-out 10th inning single off the bat of Dillon Tiller to walk off with a 7-6 win over visiting KC on Monday night at Jimmy White Field in Kelleytown.
The loss dropped visiting Post 17 to 7-3 in League III play and 1-2 in its past three outings. Hartsville improved to 7-5 in League III, which is led by Sumter at 9-1.
While Monday’s extra inning affair was a tough pill to swallow, KC head coach Craig Smith was encouraged by what he saw from his team which hosted Hartsville on Tuesday before heading back to Kelleytown for Thursday’s series finale.
“Both teams played the game it was meant to be played,” he said. “They had the last at-bat of the night and scored one more run than we did. Both teams played a good game.
“Our guys played well and they played hard. We didn’t hurt ourselves in the field … this was the first game that we lost where we didn’t beat ourselves. It was just a good ballgame for us all the way around.”
With catcher Christian Flick nursing an injury and fellow catcher Austin Hayes having to work late and arriving in Kelleytown in the middle of the contest, Lawson Stokes was forced into action behind the plate to catch starting pitcher Grey Hoke on a night in which the guests had just 13 players in uniform.
“Lawson did a great job behind the plate until Hayes got there,” Smith said of Stokes’ night of catching. “He did everything we asked him to do and, he did it well.”
Hoke, a Citadel signee, carried a no-hitter into the bottom of the sixth inning while recording nine strikeouts. Making this night all the more impressive, Smith said, was that this was not a vintage performance by the left-hander.
“Grey Hoke pitched his tail off for us,” Smith said. “On a night where he didn’t have his best stuff, he battled. That is one thing which Will (P-17 pitching coach Dorton) instills in all our guys; even when you don’t have your best stuff that night, you still have to go out and battle. Grey did that.”
KC carried a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth only to see the hosts score five runs to go on top, 5-3.
The 17ers scored once in the seventh to close the gap to a run. Blake Serpas opened the inning with a single to center and with the bases jammed, Gunner Smith sent a sacrifice fly to center to plate Serpas.
Bradwin Salmond, who relieved Hoke to start the seventh, worked a clean seventh and then set Hartsville down in order in the eighth. “Bradwin did what Bradwin does,” Smith said. “He went out there and threw strikes and makes you put the ball in play.”
KC scored a pair in the top of the ninth to forge ahead to a 6-5 advantage.
Russ Radcliff opened the frame with a leadoff single. Serpas was then asked to bunt and ended up legging out the sacrifice for a single. Tyler Bowers then laid down a bunt to put both runners into scoring position for Stokes who lined a two-run single to left to give the guests the 6-5 lead.
Hartsville scored a run in the bottom of the ninth, using a leadoff triple which turned into a run after a sacrifice fly. An inning later, a leadoff single was followed by a sacrifice bunt and a ground out before Tiller --- who came on in relief in the eighth --- won his own game with a single to right.
Post 17 scored solo runs in the first, fourth and sixth innings to take a 3-0 lead.
Radcliff, who had two of KC’s 12 hits on the night, led off the game with a single before scoring on Stokes’ sacrifice fly; the first of his three RBI in the contest. Three innings later, Gunner Smith laced a leadoff single and scored from second on a single by Ethan Beasley.
Stokes would kick off the sixth with a double to left center and scored on Grayson King’s opposite field double off the right field wall which nearly left the yard.
The visitors committed just one error, banged out a dozen hits, struck out just four times and left four runners in scoring position.
“There was not just one thing which I could say, ‘Had we done this or, had we done that, we could have won this ballgame,’” Craig Smith said. “We had some big hits late in the ballgame which helped us, but (Hartsville) had the last at-bat and got a big hit to win it at the end.”
Smith said he was encouraged with the effort from his team which had five League III games left on their league schedule including three with Sumter next week. The third-year KC boss said the 17ers are rounding into form and look like a squad which can make some noise in the post-season.
“I have no complaints whatsoever with how hard our guys played,” he said following Monday’s setback. “Hartsville is not a team that is loaded with talent, but they are scrappy. If you can’t get up on them early and start putting them away, they are going to keep coming back at you.
“After this game, I think that our guys are swinging the bats well, we’re running the bases well, we’re playing better defense and we’re pitching well. It seems like it’s starting to come together for us at the right time.”
Keeping POSTed: By sweeping a Monday doubleheader with Cheraw, Manning-Santee moved into fifth place in League III with a 5-9 record and sits a game behind Dalzell-Shaw, which was 5-8 heading into its final two games with Sumter. The fifth-place finisher in the league will host the League III champion in the first round of the state tournament … The League III runner-up will, most likely, take on winless Lowcountry Heat in opening round play while the third-place finisher gets either Murrells Inlet, Georgetown or Horry County to kick off the post-season as 12 of the 14 teams in the Lower State make the tournament … Smith said Zac Bowers would take the mound against Hartsville on Tuesday at American Legion Park with Grayson King getting the starting nod Thursday in Kelleytown … None of KC’s three League III setbacks have come in the regulation nine innings. The locals fell to Dalzell-Shaw, 12-2, in an opening night affair in Dazell in a game stopped by the 10-run rule in the seventh. They lost to Cheraw last Thursday, 8-6, in a game stopped in the seventh by weather before dropping Monday’s contest which went into an extra frame.