Red-hot Rock Hill looking forward to state tourney

Post 34's Casey Seay practices hitting at Rock Hill High School last week.
Post 34's Casey Seay practices hitting at Rock Hill High School last week.

Rock Hill Post 34 enters the American Legion state tournament as the No. 1 seed. The team blew through the playoffs winning two best-of-five series with three-game sweeps.

The regular season was a different story. Rock Hill finished 12-8 and in second place. Lancaster Post 31 won the league and beat Rock Hill four times.

The teams rematch in the first round of the tourney at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at The Winthrop Ballpark.

Rock Hill coach Steven Knight said his team took on a new look as the playoffs started.

"The guys just became more focused. There was a big change from the regular season to the first game of the playoffs," he said. "You could see it in the way they carried themselves, in their eyes and body posture. They just set their minds and worked on it."

Having five guys returning from last year's team that played for the state championship doesn't hurt. Knight led Post 34 to the championship game a year ago against host Sumter. Rock Hill held a 6-1 lead in the final game but fell 9-6.

The experience gained last year will be valuable heading into this year's tournament.

"That was a great environment," agreed Knight and pitching coach Tim Hager. "There were 2,000-3,000 fans for every game in Sumter. For these kids, that's big-time."

Knight hopes the host team can prevail again this year and is looking for some strong support.

Rock Hill has its offense clicking on all cylinders. In the playoffs the team scored 10 or more runs in five of six games. The team outscored its opponents 75-16.

In the last game against Spartanburg, Rock Hill led 15-0 after two innings before settling for a 21-3 romp.

Cam Walters is the leading hitter with a .434 batting average. He has four homers and 28 RBIs. Kyle Glass leads the team in homers (five) and RBIs (37).

Josh Salay has been dominant on the mound. A year removed from a short stay at Winthrop and headed to Spartanburg Methodist later this month, he has thrown two no-hitters this year. Against Newberry, his gem included 20 strikeouts.

Hager, a former minor league pitcher, said the Newberry game was one of the most dominating performances he has seen at any level.

Walters will start Thursday against Lancaster. Salay will go Friday and Russell Cook Saturday.

"We have three solid starters and can dip into the bullpen when we need to," Knight said.

Two of Lancaster's wins over Rock Hill this year came on walk-off homers. The way Rock Hill has beaten up on teams in the playoffs, Lancaster will need to score a lot of runs to get in position to win in that fashion again.

Knight isn't concerned about losing momentum. The team hasn't played in more than a week following the second-round sweep.

"We just look at it as a rest. It's been a long season," Knight said. "We've played 26 games."