Loading up the team bus for a trip to Georgetown for the third time in as many days for one game, the Kershaw County American Legion baseball team took another step closer to earning a state tournament berth on Thursday.
After receiving a call from Georgetown officials to stay in the bus and wait to see if Tuesday’s rains would dissipate, Post 17 received a call some 30 minutes later telling them to turn back. Wednesday, KC returned to Georgetown and took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first before the rains came, which suspended the contest. On Thursday, the locals returned to the South Strand and finished the job, taking a 9-1 win to go on top 2-0 in the best-of-five second round state playoff series.
KC head coach Craig Smith, whose team improved to 21-7 with the victory, credited his players for getting the job done in spite of logging plenty of hours on the bus.
“We’re real proud of our kids,” he said. “They made back-to-back road trips to Georgetown on Wednesday and Thursday and they did not let that bother them. Our guys showed good focus on Thursday. We went down there and got the job done.
“This is just a great group of kids. They are really having fun and like I’ve said before this season, they are like a family.”
The eight-run bulge could have been much more as Post 17 left the bases loaded in the third, fourth, sixth and seventh innings. They did not score a run with in the fourth and sixth frames.
On Wednesday, KC sent Grayson King to the mound and the leaving the bases loaded scenario started early as Georgetown loaded the bags without scoring a run in the bottom of the fifth.
In the top of the third, the 17ers dented the scoreboard as Austin Hayes led off with a single. An error on Russ Radcliff’s sacrifice bunt put runners on first and second. An error on a Blake Serpas grounder loaded the bags for Tyler Bowers whose single drove in two runs. With Gunner Smith at the plate, the heavy rains led to the game being suspended until Thursday.
On night later, Smith completed his at-bat with an RBI single to left to give the guests a 3-0 lead.
King made it 4-0 in the fifth when he unloaded on a pitch, sending it into the bleachers in center field for a solo home run.
After Post 114 scored a run in the sixth to make it a 4-1 game, the visitors scored another run in the seventh. Smith led things off with a single and was bunted to second by Bradwin Salmond. King then singled to center before Lawson Stokes was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Broderick Gaither whose single to left plated Smith for the 5-1 advantage. KC could have blown this one open, only to leave the bases filled for the second consecutive inning.
The top of the eighth opened with Serpas drawing a walk before Bowers was hit by a pitch. Smith followed with a single to load the bases, again. Salmond brought in a run the hard way when he was hit by a pitch. King made it 7-1 when he plated Bowers with a fielders’ choice grounder. Stokes brought in Smith with the eight run with a sacrifice fly to center.
The scoring ended in the ninth when Gaither doubled to left and scored on a Serpas single.
After striking out 10 times in Monday’s series-opening 7-5 win, the 17ers clubbed 15 hits in game two. The offense was led by Smith and Serpas with three hits each. Radcliff, Gaither, King and Hayes each enjoyed two-hit nights.
“Our approach at the plate was so much better than it was on Monday night,” Craig Smith said of his team’s offensive production. “Our guys really went out and made better adjustments at the plate in this game.”
King went the first two innings on Wednesday, striking out three and allowing a hit. With the game being suspended, Bowers took to the mound on Thursday and the right-hander worked six innings, allowing two hits and fanning nine. Elliott Campbell came on to work a scoreless ninth and have a pair of strikeouts while allowing a single.
For Bowers, this was another strong outing for the infielder/pitcher who has been asked to take the mound more over the past two-plus weeks of the season than he was in the first four combined.
“We have a lot of confidence in Tyler Bowers,” Craig Smith said of the right-hander who has now made a relief appearance in each of the past three series in which he has a win and a pair of saves. “He went out there and had another strong outing, just like he did against Conway and Sumter.
“You know what you are going to get out of Tyler Bowers. You know he is going to throw strikes and that he is going to pound the zone, which is exactly what we ask him to do. Nothing fazes that kid. He’s as cool as a cucumber out on that field.”