SUMTER -- Watching as Post 17 lost its lead to Inman in Sunday’s second round of the South Carolina American Legion Baseball Tournament, starting pitcher Grey Hoke smashed his plastic Gatorade bottle to the floor of the first base dugout at Riley Park.
About an hour later, Inman shattered Kershaw County’s hearts.
Scoring all its run in its final four at-bats, Post 45 took a 10-6 lead into the bottom of the 10th inning, only to survive a furious P-17 rally in taking to come away with a 10-9 victory. It marked the second time in as many days that Inman staged some late-game heroics to knock off a League III squad. A day earlier, Post 45 scored twice in the bottom of the ninth to steal a 3-2 win over Hartsville.
Sunday’s contest, again played in the simmering late afternoon heat, saw Inman follow a nearly identical script as it did in its tourney opener. The visitors did not dent the scoreboard until scoring twice in the top of the seventh to trail, 3-2. Post added three more runs in the bottom half of the frame to take what looked to be a healthy 6-2 advantage into the eighth.
But in a season in which the KC bullpen has answered the call time and time again, the wheels came off in this winners’ bracket game. After Inman scored two runs on seven hits against Hoke, the next five P-17ers who took to the mound surrendered eight runs on 10 hits over the final four innings of play.
There was nothing tricky about Post 45’s comeback. The visitors from the Upstate found holes in the outfield for base hits while taking advantage of a trio of walks and a hit batter. Inman won the hitting battle, 17-12, as well as the war. KC did not commit an error on the field in making Inman earn everything it got in this four-hour marathon.
“I have absolutely no complaints with our guys, at all,” said P-17 head coach Craig Smith. “(Inman) got 17 hits; they swung the bats pretty well tonight, especially in the later innings. When you give up 17 hits, you’re not going to win very many, if any, ballgames.”
Inman reduced its deficit to three runs with a Jacob Scruggs single to lead off the eighth and later scoring on Dallas Betsil’s fielders’ choice for the second out of the inning.
Things started unraveling for KC in the ninth as Post 45 knotted the game when a two-out Scruggs run-scoring single was followed by Nick Stewart’s double to the gap in left center which drove in Scruggs from first base with the tying run. Stewart was left hanging on second as Bradwin Salmond got Landon Collins on a ground out.
KC, which got to Inman starter Jonah Corn for three runs in the fifth and seventh frames, would not be as lucky against reliever Jordan Edney, who was working out of the pen for the second time in as many days.
After surrendering a two-out, two-run double to Austin Hayes in the seventh, Edney got into a groove as he would retire seven consecutive batters from the seventh through ninth innings.
Building on the momentum after P-17 went down in order in the ninth, Inman staged a four-run rally in the 10th which started with Betsil being hit by a pitch. Brooks Richardson and Hunter Lipscomb loaded the bases with a single to left and a walk, respectively. Mikey Branhan then came on and retired Chris Stewart on an infield fly for the first outs. But a Caleb Bruce single, a balk and Gavin Bishop’s suicide squeeze bunt each produced a run. Scruggs made it a 10-6 game when his blooper to shallow left plated Bruce.
Coming in with runners on second and third with one gone, Elliott Campbell got the 17ers out of further trouble with a ground out and a strikeout.
Having done little with Edney for the previous two innings, KC received a glimmer of hope as Broderick Gaither worked his way to a leadoff walk to open the bottom of the 10th. With one gone, Russ Radcliff doubled to center to put runners in scoring position for Blake Serpas, whose walk loaded the bases while chasing Edney from the mound in favor of Nick Stewart, who promptly fanned the first batter he faced for the second out.
In a post-season of failed bids with the bases jammed, the locals stayed alive when Gunner Smith lined an RBI single to center to cut the lead to 10-7. Pinch-hitter Ethan Beasley then drew a walk on good at-bat in which he fouled off a pair of pitches to make it 10-8. Salmond cut the lead to 10-9 with a line drive single to right which scored Serpas while Gunner Smith was held at third as the bases were still loaded for Lawson Stokes whose drive to deep right center was tracked down by Bishop in center field to end a contest which started in daylight and ended in twilight.
“I’m real proud of our guys. They showed a lot of heart there in the last inning by coming back,” Craig Smith said. “We were one hit away from tying it up or, possibly winning it. Lawson had a quality at-bat and put a good swing on a good pitch; (Bishop) just happened to get to it.”
The late-game fireworks were in stark contrast to the lack of offense in the early going as Hoke and Corn took turns firing goose eggs at the opposing offenses. Inman had the best scoring opportunity in the first four and a half innings when, in the third, Betsil had a two-out single and took second on a wild pitch. He tried to score from second on Richardson’s single to center but a charging Radcliff came up firing and delivered a strike to Hayes at the plate to gun down Betsil to keep things scoreless.
Post 17 changed all that in the fifth as Hayes rocked a leadoff triple over the head of Bishop to the wall in center. Radcliff followed with an RBI single to center before stealing second. He advanced to third on a Serpas sacrifice bunt. Tyler Bowers then walked to put runners on the corners with one out. Bowers would break for second on a steal attempt. Catcher Chris Stewart’s throw to the bag was on the money but was unable to be handled by shortstop Betsil, who was covering the bag. Seeing that, Radcliff broke for home with the game’s second run. Bowers made it 3-0 when he trotted home from third on the first of two doubles by Grayson King.
Hoke, for his part, worked out of a bases loaded jam in the fifth while making sure a pair of runners were left stranded in the sixth.
He was not so fortunate in the seventh as Betsil’s leadoff single to center led to Richardson’s double to center to make it a 3-1 game while chasing Hoke from the mound in favor of Bowers. Richardson wound up scoring on a passed ball to cut the lead to 3-2.
Hoke, who was looking for his eighth win in as many decisions, was lifted after throwing 98 pitches. The Citadel signee scattered seven hits while fanning six batters in not factoring into the decision.
“Once again,” Craig Smith said, “Grey Hoke went out and gave us 110 percent. He pitched well and he located well.”
Inman did its damage at the top and back ends of the batting order as Betsil had three singles from the leadoff spot with Richardson and Lipscomb adding four and two hits, respectively, in the second and third slots. Scruggs and Nick Stewart had three hits apiece batting seventh and eighth.
For the 17ers, Hayes and King had three hits each with Hayes going for a single, double and a triple while driving in two runs before taken out during the top of the 10th with excessive leg cramps. King had a pair of doubles and a single with an RBI while Radcliff and Salmond had two-hit games in a contest in which KC did not commit an error in the field.
“This is the way the game of baseball should be played,” Craig Smith said. “There were not very many errors, the pitchers threw the ball well and the team with the most hits wins. That’s what happened tonight.
“It was a great ballgame. In the end, though, they hit the ball more than we did.”
Keeping POSTed: First pitch for the evening’s finale between League III champion Sumter and League II winner Florence was thrown close to 9 p.m. due to the long Post 17 vs. Inman contest. Florence won that winners’ bracket game, 14-0, in seven innings on a day on three run-shortened affairs in which Chapin-Newberry throttled Spartanburg, 17-0, while Hartsville trounced Rock Hill, 16-5 … All three Kershaw County High School head baseball coaches --- Camden’s Denny Beckley, Lugoff-Elgin’s Randy Stokes and North Central’s Robbie Cash --- were in the stands for Sunday’s game which drew a load of college coaches including The Citadel associate head coach David Beckley and Francis Marion head coach Art Inabinet … Sumter native and New York Yankees legend Bobby Richardson, was in attendance for the Sumter vs. Florence game. A likeness of a Richardson baseball card, from his playing days with the Yankees, is painted on the outfield wall saluting the former Post 15 American Legion player.