Rock Hill Post 34 hit three home runs to beat Easley Post 52 Monday night in the first game of their first round American Legion baseball state tournament series, 5-3.
Easley stranded 13 runners in a game where Rock Hill coach Mike Scott said he thought about yanking starting pitcher Will Chitwood and reliever Stewart Hodge each more than once. But the former Northwestern Trojans always seemed to get out of a jam, and Post 34 did too, staying a step ahead of the visitors for a Game One win.
“I felt like we were always in that tough position,” said Rock Hill coach Mike Scott. “But Will Chitwood, Stewart (Hodge), these guys threw the right pitches and the guys behind them made the plays to keep them from scoring runs.”
Garrett Rast, Chase Watts and Trent Autry homered in a game where the hosts mercilessly bashed anything Easley pitcher Casey Cook left up, out of the park at Rock Hill High School.
“What’s great about this team, is my No. 9 hitter is a four-hole hitter anywhere else,” said Scott. “He can put it out of the park just like anyone else. This really is a really good team.”
Chester’s Autry hit the night’s first home run, sending a dinger over the left field fence and into the red clay beyond for a 1-0 Rock Hill lead in the bottom of the first frame. Easley answered in the top of the second with its own homer. J.D. LeClair walked and Aron Gravley followed with a 2-run bomb just inside the left foul pole to make it 2-1 to the visitors.
They went ahead 3-1 in the top of the third when Paul Alteri reached via error, Mason Covey singled and Dallas Moses smoked an RBI single into the gap between right and centerfield. LeClair then walked to load the bases on Chitwood, but the former Trojan escaped unscathed by getting Gravley to line out to left.
Rock Hill retook the lead in the bottom half of the third, via another long ball. Chance Montgomery led off with a single before Chase Watts bashed a two-run homer over the four-foot-tall left field fence to tie the game, 3-3.
Easley’s first two batters got aboard again in the fourth, but Chitwood again worked out of the situation, getting a ground-ball and a line-out to end the inning.
“When you leave that many people on base, it’s tough,” said Easley coach Danny Lockaby, as his team cleaned up the dugout behind him. “I think that’s the difference in the game. We’ve just got to execute better.”
Rock Hill took the lead in the bottom half, Garrett Rast hitting Casey Cook’s first pitch of the frame into the centerfield foliage for a 4-3 advantage. Colton Pagoota kept the scoring spurt going by squeaking out an infield single. Pagoota then stole second and Cody Edkins’ sacrifice bunt bumped him down to third base. Drew Patrick laid down a well-directed bunt to score Pagoota for a 5-3 lead.
Chitwood again allowed the first two Easley runners of the sixth inning to get on base, but once again he managed to wriggle out of the inning with a pop-fly and a strikeout. Chitwood allowed just four hits and three runs, but did walk five. He seemed to throw his best with base-runners adding pressure, as did Stewart Hodge, who got out of a bases loaded, one-out jam in the top of the seventh with two clutch strikeouts.
“When the pressure got on, they came through,” said Scott. “I was this close 12 times tonight to pulling one of them out. But each one I told them, ‘I didn’t go with my head, I went with my heart.”
Rock Hill- 1;0;2;2;0;0;0;0;X-5;7;2
Will Chitwood, Stewart Hodge; Casey Cook. WP- Chitwood; LP- Cook. Hitting: Easley- Aron Gravley 1-2, 2-run HR; J.D. LeClair 0-1, 3 BBs; Casey Cook 2-3, BB; Dallas Moses 1-3, BB. Rock Hill- Garrett Rast 2-3, HR; Chase Watts 2-3, 2-run HR; Trent Autry 1-4, HR; Chance Montgomery 1-2.
Records: Easley 7-13; Rock Hill 10-3.