Small ball and good defense will win some baseball games. Rock Hill Post 34 employed both to erase an early seven-run deficit. But nothing could be done to repeat the feat as Spartanburg Post 28 rallied back for a 15-8 win.
Spartanburg's victory clinched the best-of-five American Legion playoff series. Post 28 took the set three games to one. Spartanburg will advance to the second round against the winner of the Richland/Easley series. The second round will begin Monday.
Rock Hill finished the year at 9-11.
Spartanburg hit the ball and hit it hard in the second inning. Luke Danielewicz led off with a line-drive homer that carried just over the left field wall. Two batters later, Joseph Metz hit his first home run to right to make it 3-0.
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Dee Jones singled and Andrew Patterson and Sloan Gilliam walked to load the bases. Ross Hanna, Spartanburg's behemoth first baseman, stepped to the plate and crushed a pitch over the left field fence and deep into the hardwood trees beyond The Winthrop Ballpark. The grand slam gave Spartanburg a 7-0 lead.
Hanna will be transferring from Erskine to Spartanburg Methodist in the fall. He said he wasn't looking for any particular pitch.
"I've been in a slump lately. I was just looking for something to hit," Hanna said. "It was a hanging curve."
Rock Hill went to work in the bottom of the inning to start chipping away at the lead. Post 34 scored on a two-out, two-run single by Brantley Rumford in the second.
Taylor Wallace doubled off the left field fence to score starting pitcher Evan Andert in the third inning. Two batters later, Josh Bowers brought Wallace in to make it 7-4 Spartanburg.
In the fourth inning, Rock Hill went to the small ball. Ryan Cox led off with a walk. Rumford set down a near-perfect bunt fielded by Post 28 pitcher Cory Wines. Wines' throw to first was wide of Hanna's reach at first base. Cox came all the way around to score and Rumford went to second on the error.
Michael Hill followed with a bunt single to move Rumford to third. Rumford later scored on a passed ball.
In the fifth, Rock Hill plated two more runs off two hit batsmen and another throwing error by Wines.
Rock Hill 8, Spartanburg 7.
Post 34 coach Steve Knight said his staff works with the team on bunting from the first day of practice.
"Our staff always preaches it. But they had to execute it. We asked the guys to bunt and they did it," Knight said between hugs from each of his players as they gathered in center field following the game.
"I guarantee when it was 8-7, Spartanburg was feeling it. They have to be thinking now, 'Whew, I don't want to go through that again.' We just marched, marched, marched to get back in the game."
Rock Hill's defense was superb. The infield turned three double plays and catcher Taylor Wallace turned in a unique twin killing after Post 28's Alex Dozier struck out in the seventh. Wallace scrambled out of the catcher's box to run down Spartanburg's Brian Poteat between second and third base.
Casey Seay made two fine running catches in the fourth inning. Dozier laced a ball to center that was slicing to Seay's left, but he ran it down after getting a good jump on the ball. Gilliam hit a ball to deep center with two outs, but Seay ran back to the warning track to make the catch and end the inning.
Dozier got Spartanburg's offense going again in the seventh. The speedy center fielder tripled off the wall in right-center to lead off. Three straight walks forced Dozier home with the tying run, 8-8. The walks also ended the night on the mound for Andert.
Andert pitched through the big second inning. He settled down after allowing three home runs. The tall right-hander gave up just one hit over the next 4 1-3 innings until Spartanburg caught up with him again in the seventh.
Andert gave up seven hits and eight walks in six innings.
Logan Cribb came on in relief. Danielewicz greeted him with a two-run single. Kyle Worthy added a run-scoring double and Poteat drove in two more with a single as Spartanburg went back up 13-8.
Spartanburg coach Matthew West was relieved to come out with the win.
"We almost threw it away. We have to work on (fielding) bunts," West said. "We knew we were hitting the ball well after the second inning. We hadn't done that yet in this series."
Jones started on the mound for Spartanburg but only threw three innings. Wines and Ryan Traylor pitched the final six innings and limited Rock Hill to just three hits. Traylor earned the win. He pitched the three shutout innings, allowing two hits with two strikeouts.
At The Winthrop Ballpark