SUMTER – There were two ways in which the Kershaw County American Legion baseball team could have responded to Sunday’s gut-wrenching 10-9, 10-inning loss (see story, Page 9) to Inman in the second round of the South Carolina American Legion State Tournament.
Post 17 head coach Craig Smith got the answer he was looking for as his squad assembled to return to Sumter for Monday’s 1 p.m. elimination contest with defending state American Legion champion Chapin-Newberry.
When the dust at Riley Park had finally settled, it was KC living to see another day in the double-elimination event with a 7-3 victory over a squad made up of players from Chapin, Newberry, Mid-Carolina and Dutch Fork high schools. KC advanced to the tourney’s final four and faced unbeaten Florence in a Tuesday night game.
“Our team is like a family,” Smith said, “and that loss last night bothered them. It was just like somebody had broken into the house last night. Today, they were bound and determined that was not going to happen again.”
“When we showed up today to get on the bus, I could tell that our team was ready and that they were focused. They took last night’s loss personal and they came down here with a purpose today and, we were fortunate enough to get the win.”
The locals, who improved to 25-8 on the season, gave starting pitcher Grayson King an early five-run cushion after scoring five times in the bottom of the second while chasing C-N starter Pat Yoder from the mound in the process. Jumping out and grabbing the momentum early played a large role in taking some of the bad taste left in KC’s collective mouth from the day before.
King left after six complete innings with a 6-1 lead. The right-hander struck out nine while scattering six hits before handing the ball off to Elliott Campbell, who earned a three-inning save in which he would bear down to come out unscathed from a bases loaded with one out jam in a scoreless top half of the eighth.
King, who is the only one of the 17ers’ three regular starting pitchers to swing the bat on the days he does not pitch and who was the designated hitter on Saturday and Sunday, gave Smith and company all he had, said his head coach.
“Grayson did a great job for us on the mound today,” Smith said. “We knew we were going to be playing in the middle of the day and that it was going to be hot. We thought we might get seven (innings), possibly eight out of him. In the heat of the day like this, we knew if we could get seven out of him that we had done well.
“When we pulled him in the sixth, he was tired. He was at 100 pitches, or so. It was time to go get him.”
After King struck out the side in the second, his offense gave him five runs to work with after the 17ers sent 10 men to the plate in a rally which started with Bradwin Salmond’s one-out walk. Lawson Stokes then took a Roper pitch for a single to center before Ethan Beasley, making his first start in the tourney, lined an RBI double which skirted along the right field line to bring Salmond home. Christian Flick followed by drawing a walk before Austin Hayes roped a two-run double to center to drive in both Stokes and Beasley for a 3-0 lead while closing the book on Yoder.
Zack Ziesing followed Yoder to the mound and was greeted by Russ Radcliff whose grounder to second plated Flick. Hayes made it 5-0 when he came in from third on a Tyler Bowers single to right.
C-N left men on second and third in a scoreless third as King fanned Danton Hyman for the final out. Post 193 and 24 would push a run across in the fourth in an inning which could have ended worse for KC.
Lawton Allison led the inning off with a walk before taking second on a wild pitch and moving to third when Justin Hawkins followed with a single to left. After getting a strikeout, King surrendered an RBI single to right off the bat of Hunter Booth. With two outs and Hawkins standing on second, Derek Olenchuk lined a single to right. Hawkins, who tried to score on the play, was easily gunned out several yards in front of the plate by a strike from Salmond to Flick, who caught the throw and ran up the third base line to meet and tag Hawkins for the third out.
King, who got through the fifth and sixth frames without a scratch, received a sixth run in the fourth when Radcliff single, stole both second and third before scoring on a Bowers single to right to make it 6-1.
Chapin-Newberry received solo home runs from Hawkins and Allison in the seventh and ninth innings for some window dressing. Those shots sandwiched a one-run bottom of the eighth for KC which received a leadoff triple off the wall in right by Hayes, who made it a 7-2 lead when he scored on a Radcliff single to left.
The final anxious moment for Post 17 came in the top of the eighth after C-N loaded the bases with one out with Chad Davis and Hyman, who bat third and fourth in the order, coming up. That called for pitching coach Will Dorton to make a visit to the mound to settle the 6-foot-5 Campbell down. All the youngster would do was to get Davis to fly out to Gunner Smith at first base while Allison flew to right to end the threat.
“Elliott …,” Craig smith said in talking about the Lugoff-Elgin product, “you have a kid who is a rising 10th grader who has never been in this setting. He came out and did what we asked him to do which is throw strikes.
“That’s been our thing all season. We ask our pitchers to throw strikes and let our defense play behind them and that’s what we did.”
When informed that C-N stranded 15 men on base Monday, Smith was finally able to laugh at that statistic. “That sounds like us,” he said, alluding to his team’s struggles to get more runners across the plate in this post-season.
On the afternoon, KC collected a dozen hits with Radcliff, Bowers, Salmond and Hayes enjoying two-hit games with Radcliff and Hayes each driving in two runs. The winners left nine men on base.
“It’s a different day and different names,” Smith said as to where the production on offense and the big plays on defense came from Monday. “That’s one thing I love about our team. We have 17 guys and when you play five games in a week, you’re going to get five different guys who contribute to give us a win.
“We’re just happy to get the win and to still be playing.”
Keeping POSTed: If the tournament went according to an eight-team event bracket, Post 17 would have played Inman in a “loser go home” pairing on Tuesday. But by South Carolina American Legion State Tournament rules, all means necessary are taken so that two teams which have already met in the tourney would not have to meet in a rematch until the final day. Since tourney favorite Florence had already played Inman and Sumter and Inman had faced Post 17 already, it was decided that Post 1 would meet KC while Inman squared off with Sumter on Tuesday afternoon … On the down side of Monday’s win, Salmond injured what appeared to be his left ankle after taking a misstep on the first base bag following his leadoff single in the seventh. While stretched across the dugout bench with the ankle wrapped in an ice pack, the rising freshman at Lugoff-Elgin High, smiled and said he would be ready to play Tuesday … Radcliff stole another three bases on Monday after having swiped three against Inman on Sunday … Tuesday’s games were originally slated for 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. starts. Those times were changed to 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., by tournament officials, late Monday evening … Wednesday’s championship round has also been re-scheduled for a 10 a.m. start … KC players have caught the eyes of several college coaches who have been in attendance at the tournament and have either heard from or, will be hearing from those schools.