Neither rain nor … OK, we’ll stop at rain.
Leading, 5-4, after four and one half innings of Thursday’s third game in its best-of-five first round state American Legion playoff series against visiting Aiken, Kershaw County thought it had done all that was needed to lock down the set. After all, Post 17 had met the requirements for the contest to be ruled official since it had the lead at the midway mark before torrential rain and winds rendered American Legion Park unplayable.
The two umpires concurred that it was a regulation game while KC head coach Tyler Pike grabbed his cell phone to call Sumter District representative Bill Brewer in order to find out if the game was official. Since it was in the playoffs, Brewer contacted state American Legion Baseball director Legree Oswald to get the official word. Minutes later, Brewer called Pike to inform him that the game had to be played out in its entirety; meaning Aiken had to come back on Friday for the completion of the contest.
Some 22 hours later, Aiken returned and scored a pair of runs off KC reliever Will Abbott in the sixth inning to take a 6-5 lead only to see the hosts score three times in their half of the frame and hold on for the series-clinching 8-6 victory.
As for his team getting past Aiken in the minimum amount of games without having to tax an already burdened pitching staff by playing into the weekend, Pike said was something he would gladly take any day of the week.
“It’s nice to get a few days off so these guys can relax,” he said. “We’re nicked up. We have a lot of guys who are hurt or, banged up. If we can heal up these guys and be able to go in full-force against whoever we have (this) week, we’ll be OK.”
The “whoever” part of the equation was determined shortly after the 17ers needed 71 minutes to close out Aiken on Friday.
Post 17’s reward for its sweep is a second round pairing against defending American Legion World Series champion Chapin-Newberry. The first game of the best-of-five series was scheduled for Monday night at Newberry College with game two set for American Legion Park in Camden tonight at 7 p.m. Chapin-Newberry will host game three on Wednesday with games four and/or five, if necessary, being contested in Camden and Newberry, respectively, on Thursday and Friday.
The winner of the second round series automatically qualifies for the South Carolina American Legion State Tournament which opens on Saturday, July 23 at Riley Park in Sumter.
Sending out The Citadel-bound Abbott to start the sixth inning on Friday had already been determined one night earlier by Pike. T.J. White gave KC three innings, allowing one run in all three after thr Westwood High product come in relief of starter Brandon Dow, who went the first two frames.
After having seen Aiken score a run in the top of the fifth to close to within 5-4 while leaving runners on second and third before the tarps which cover the pitcher’s mound and the home plate area were brought out just seconds before the first of many rain drops fell, Pike said the wheels were in motion as to try and close the game and series out with Abbott.
“It’s funny because (Thursday) night, that was probably T.J.’s last inning. Before the bottom fell out, the more I thought about it, I said, ‘We’re going to bring Abbott in to finish it out,’” Pike said. “It worked out perfectly for us that T.J. was just about done and Will was ready to finish it off.”
Making his second appearance in three nights after closing out Wednesday’s 9-5 win with a 10-pitch ninth inning, Abbott struggled with his control on Friday after KC could not add to its lead in the fifth.
The right-hander issued walks to Nick Champy and Bryan Melvin, the first two batters he faced, before he took care of Connor Howell on a high chopper to the mound. Matt Abner’s fielders’ choice plated Champy, which tied thing at 5-5. After swiping second, Abner came around from there on Patrick Ferguson’s two-out bloop single to center. Abbott gave up an infield single to Alex Mills but escaped further damage when he induced a foul ball pop fly to William Cobb at first base to end the inning.
Abbot rebounded from that bumpy, three-hit frame by not allowing a hit over the next three innings. He closed his four-inning, 69-pitch stint by fanning five batters.
Pike said the way which Abbott’s night started did not concern him. A former pitcher himself, the first-year KC boss said he knows that first inning of work can be the toughest one for some pitchers.
“That happens with a lot of pitchers for some reason,” Pike said. “It takes you an inning or two to get adjusted. Will, to me, has always been a guy who has gotten stronger as the game has gone on. It’s almost like he throws harder and throws more strikes after that; he’s the dude. I have no issue with him.”
Abbott would get all the run support he would need in the bottom of the sixth as the hosts hung up a three-spot to go on top, 8-6.
The inning opened in a big way as Josh Hernandez went deep for the second time in as many games. This time, it was a leadoff bomb over the 375-feet sign in left center off Melvin to even things at six.
Bradwin Salmond followed with a single to center before Devin Beckley chased Melvin from the box with an opposite field single to right which put runners on the corners with no outs. Braxton Copley inherited Melvin’s mess and promptly gave up a sacrifice fly to right off the bat of Ross Hough to give KC a 7-6 lead while Beckley moved to second on the throw home.
Copley tried to pick Beckley off second only for his throw to sail into center field. Post 17 third base coach Stephen Carmon never hesitated in waving Beckley home as no play was made on Beckley after catcher Blake Seigler was unable to come up with the throw from the outfield as the lead went to 8-6.
By the time Abbott retired Seigler on a fly ball to Salmond at shortstop to close the second half of a game which took two nights to complete, the blazing sun was still shining. It was in stark contrast to Thursday when the start of the game itself was in jeopardy since parts of Camden, including American Legion Park, did not have power following the first of the two storms which hit the area late that afternoon.
The game was started just as power was restored to the area with Aiken taking a 1-0 lead with a run in the first off Dow as Abner opened the game with a single and scored on a Josh Shealy ground out.
Dow, who bent down in pain on the mound more than once, worked a scoreless second before being pulled in favor of White. Dow watched the rest of the night from the dugout with his right arm wrapped in ice.
“That was all we wanted from him,” Pike said of Dow’s performance. “Actually, I was hoping to get three (innings) out of him but Brandon’s a little beat-up and a little sore right now. He toughed it out, though, and that’s the type of player that he is. He went out there and gave us everything he had for two innings and that was the plan.”
The 17ers scored twice in the second off Aiken starter Josh Kiser. Christian Flick got on with a fielders’ choice. With two gone, John Bailey laid down a pretty bunt along the third base line which he legged out for a single to keep the inning alive. An error on a Nick Butler grounder plated Flick while Bailey made it 2-1 when he scored on Brock Robinson’s single to right.
Post 17 collected 14 hits in the two-night affair with Robinson, Salmond, Cobb and Bailey having two each. Bailey’s two singles came from his slot in the nine hole in the order. Pike said getting production up and down the line make his team dangerous.
“That’s what we need; we need contributions from every guy in the order from one through nine. As long as we get that, we’ll be in every ballgame,” he said. “I tell our guys that as long as we keep putting the bat on the ball, our pitchers keep throwing strikes and we play good defense, we’ll be in every ballgame.”
After Aiken knotted things with a run in the third off White, the hosts regained the edge in the third as Salmond greeted reliever Connor Howell with a leadoff single to center. He scored the go-head run when Champy dropped Cobb’s infield fly ball to deep shortstop.
Post 26 put this one on level ground with a run in the fourth which KC answered by tacking on two more runs in its half of the inning.
Robinson was plunked by a Howell pitch with one out. He would steal second and go to third on a wild pitch. Walks to Hernandez and Salmond followed, loading the bases as Melvin was brought in to face Beckley whose fielders’ choice to shortstop drove in Robinson while Hernandez was thrown out at third. With two gone, Hough’s single to center scored Salmond to make it 5-3.
Aiken scored an unearned run in the fifth as the P-17 lead was trimmed to one before the skies opened.
Pike said Aiken, which just made to move back up to Senior Legion baseball after having finished second in the state Junior American Legion tourney last year, was not your typical third-place entry. In fact, Post 26 owned a win over Chapin-Newberry in League VIIII play.
“They’re a good team. They’re solid,” Pike said. “Third-place doesn’t mean anything now, we’re in the playoffs. One through nine, they had guys who can run, play defense, hit the ball and had guys who threw strikes. They’re pretty good.”
Those facts could have led to a coach having a sleepless night when a game was stopped in mid-stream by weather. Pike, however, said he was confident that his team would return to the field ready on Friday.
“I wasn’t worried,” he said of the game being picked up from where if left off a night earlier. “With these guys, it might take us a little while to get going but we seem to be able to string something together at the right time. You can’t panic. You’ve got to stay the course and keep playing ball.”
Keeping POSTed: While sitting in the back of the building which houses the concession stand and home team locker room at American Legion Park in Camden and watching the rain which was going sideways due to the vicious winds, an Aiken player told someone on his cell phone that the scene unfolding before his eyes “looks like Katrina.” … The 17ers were without Flick on Friday, who was visiting family in Pennsylvania … Missing all three games last week due to being on family vacation was Nick Stokes who Pike was giving thought to being given the starting mound nod for Monday’s opener in Newberry. Should that be the case, Pike could go with Salmond tonight and Beckley on Wednesday with both right-handers being given a week between starts … Chapin-Newberry needed four games to take down Hartsville last week. The 17ers are almost a lock to see recent USC commitment Corey Stone, a left-handed pitcher and rising senior at Mid-Carolina High School, this week … In the other two Lower State series, Horry County will face Florence and Murrells Inlet will meet Sumter. Should Murrells Inlet defeat Sumter, it would mean that all three series winners plus Sumter, would earn state tournament berths as Sumter gets the automatic bid as event host. Should Sumter win that series, it creates a scenario in which all three second round losers would play for the final slot in the state tourney.