Ask an old-timer and they’ll tell you Monday night felt more like 1989 than 2019 inside Riley Park.
The P-15’s fell to Florence 4-3 in an instant classic in front of a packed crowd for the first game of the South Carolina American Legion baseball state tournament on Monday.
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“It was kinda like the Florence and Sumter games of old,” said Post 1 head coach Derick Urquhart, whose team improved to 34-4 on the season. “It was good to see the fans come back. They definitely got their money’s worth tonight.”
Sumter fell to 24-10 overall and will now face Fort Mill on Wednesday at 4 p.m. in an elimination game at Segra Park in Columbia. Fort Mill lost to Greer 4-0 on Monday.
Florence will take on Greer at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in the winners bracket contest.
The winner of the Sumter-Fort Mill contest will take on the loser of the Florence-Greer game on Thursday at 7 p.m.
The Florence-Greer winner will secure a spot in the championship round and will earn a berth in the Southeast Regional in Tampa, Florida, since the South Carolina state champion and runner-up will both advance. The winner of the Thursday game will advance to the championship round and secure a berth in the regional.
Florence escaped Sumter with a narrow victory after the P-15’s left the bases loaded four separate times, including in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“We couldn’t get the big hit,” said Sumter head coach Curtis Johnson. “Gotta give their guys credit. We couldn’t put the ball in play in big situations, and we just didn’t capitalize with runners in scoring position.”
Florence opened the scoring with three runs in the top of the second inning. They connected on five hits in the inning, including a clutch 2-run single by Jackson Purvis.
The P-15’s used patience at the plate to answer with three runs of their own to tie the game in the bottom of the third inning. Sumter drew four walks in the third inning, including two with the bases loaded, to tie the game at 3-3.
After the third consecutive walk, Urquhart went to his bullpen and brought in Timothy Felder, who promptly struck out back-to-back hitters with the bases loaded to stop the P-15’s threat.
The score remained tied until the top of the fifth inning when Owen Taylor knocked a 2-out, 2-strike single into left field to give Post 1 the 4-3 lead.
It was the only run of the game allowed by reliever Josh Bryant. Bryant was sensational in relief, pitching 5 1/3 innings, allowing just three hits while striking out three batters. He also made two great defensive plays on line drives up the middle with the score tied and a runner in scoring position in the fourth inning.
“Josh was really good for us,” said Johnson. “He can field his position. That’s just PFP [pitchers fielding practice]. We actually worked on it just yesterday in practice.”
The P-15’s loaded the bases in the bottom of the fifth inning after a walk, hit by pitch and yet another walk, but Felder escaped the jam again. Chandler Hunter hit a liner to left field where Gage Weatherford made the first of his game-saving catches for the second out of the inning, and Trent Frye followed with a pop out to second base, leaving the runners stranded.
Sumter left a total of 15 men on base in the contest.
The P-15’s loaded the bases again in the bottom of the seventh. Tray Yates reached on a single, Victor Brown was hit by a pitch and Hunter was walked intentionally after Yates and Brown stole second and third base, respectively.
Frye then battled Florence reliever Austin Moore, finally ripping what looked to be a sure single to left field until Weatherford came through with yet another game-saving catch.
“Gage had a couple of huge catches out there,” said Urquhart. “Very fortunate to get out of this game with a win.”
“[Frye] did everything he could do,” said Johnson. “His job was to hit the ball on the barrel, and he hit the ball on the barrel right there.”
Other than coming up on the short end of the stick, Johnson had no problems with Monday’s game.
“I was proud of our effort, proud of our guys,” said Johnson. “It was a good American Legion baseball game, and now it’s one game at a time.”
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