It was not the perfect return to Riley Park for which the Sumter P-15's were hoping for on Wednesday. After an afternoon of on-and-off heavy rain sprinkled with some showers during the game, Sumter fell to Lexington 14-10.
"These guys just wanted …
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"These guys just wanted to get started and get back to Riley Park. It's been a while," said head coach Robby Coker. "They're ready to play some ballgames, but we flat booted it around the ballpark last night. I hope we got all that out of the way."
If the coronavirus pandemic wasn't going to keep fans away, neither was a little bit of rain. Fans made sure to social distance in the stands and were glad to have a reason to come back to the ballpark.
"I drove past (the ballpark) and a friend of mine told me they were playing and I was like, 'They're playing? The pros aren't even playing,' " said Mike Keenan. "Just to even watch a game, just to be here and get out is great."
One fan who was particularly glad to be back at the park was Tony Burns, the father of P-15's player Josh Burns. Along with his son, he coached many of the P-15's at the lower levels, so he was thrilled to have the opportunity to watch baseball again, no matter the level.
"It's really nice because I coached all these kids that are playing for the P-15's as they were going through the system, and I helped Robby Coker coach the Juniors when we won state for the first time, so it's just great seeing my kids out there playing," said Burns. "They've got a lot of talent on this field and great kids too."
The same can be said for Chandler Hunter, who played for the P-15's last year. Like the current members of the team, Hunter missed out on his spring season at Columbia International, so it was cathartic to come back out to the ballpark.
"It means a lot because I get to watch some of my friends play and it gives me something to do," said Hunter. "I love baseball and I just always want to watch it, so I'm excited to be out here."
As for fear of the coronavirus, fans felt safe.
"Not as far as my family goes," Tony Burns responded when asked if he had any fear being at Riley Park with the increased of coronavirus cases in the last week. "I can see how there would be concerns, but we've been working."
Keenan said, "You can't live in fear and make it change your life. Be smart, don't go out coughing on people, but sitting and watching nine innings (actually seven) is a getaway from all the things that are going on outside these walls. Everybody needs something like that and that's what baseball does for me."
The game conditions were worse on the field than off it. The first inning saw a total of 12 runs scored in large part thanks to walks and errors. Lexington kicked off the scoring with five runs in the first, before the P-15's responded with seven runs of their own in the top of the frame. Sumter needed just three hits to plate those seven runs, as they walked seven times in the opening inning.
Lexington didn't slow down in the second, tacking on eight runs, while holding the Sumter bats silent to take a 13-7 lead. Sumter couldn't quite close the gap in a 14-10 loss.
The P-15's committed nine errors and only three of Lexington's 14 runs were earned.
Dustin Kennedy started on the mound for Sumter and took the loss. He was charged with nine runs, just two earned, while allowing six hits.
The P-15's had just five hits, all of them singles. However, they did draw 12 walks and had one hit batter.
Tray Yates led the way, going 2-for-4 with three runs scored, two runs batted in and four stolen bases. Kennedy had two hits and two RBI, while Jacob Holladay had the other hit and drew two walks. Jackson Hoshour drew three walks, scored a run and had an RBI.
Ugly baseball can be expected early this summer season, as players work to knock some rust off. Players on the P-15's normally have an entire high school or college season to get into a rhythm on the diamond that they're missing this year. Coker hopes they were able to get some of those mistakes out of the way on Wednesday so they can move ahead to a strong summer.
"We told them we'll get it out of the way and play Sumter baseball, because that's not how Sumter plays baseball," said Coker. "So maybe all the errors were all in one game, or at least a bunch of them, maybe 90 percent of the errors. We'll have to see."
On top of trying to get his team in midseason form, Coker said one of his biggest challenges is making sure his players do everything they can to follow the guidelines put in place during the pandemic.
"Social distancing. It's hard to get teenage boys to understand social distancing," said Coker. "You worry that if one kid gets it, your whole team is wiped out. That's it for 14 days. Just trying to explain to them not to hang around and go to too many places. It's tough."
While it wasn't the prettiest game in the world, Coker was just glad to be back at Riley Park with his team.
'Walking into Riley Park is nice," said Coker. "Getting in somewhere where you have your own locker room, have your own fans coming in, there's nothing better than playing in Riley Park."
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