Needing a little more run support on the mound, Greenwood American Legion Post 20 pitcher Blake Smith helped out his own cause in the bottom of the seventh inning against Orangeburg Post 4 at John Nave Stadium.
With his team clutching a 2-1 lead with two outs in the seventh, Smith hammered an 0-2 pitch over the left field fence, putting Post 20 up 4-1 and sparking the team to a 6-3 series-opening win in the second round of the American Legion playoffs.
“It feels good (to win Game 1),” Smith said. “Last time we came out (against Gaffney in the first round), I was starting at home and didn’t pitch how I needed to. I knew I had to have a different mentality and not having ever played these boys, we didn’t know what we were walking into.
“But we did what we had to do, got hits when we needed it, and I threw the ball well, I reckon.”
Smith shut out Orangeburg through the first six innings, allowing just two hits. Greenwood finally broke the scoreless tie in the bottom of the sixth, notching two runs off three hits to take the 2-0 lead.
But Post 4 scratched across a run in the top of the seventh to narrow the deficit to one. But Smith quickly grabbed back the momentum for Post 20.
Smith stepped to the plate in the home half of the seventh with two outs and Shannon Smith standing on first. Blake Smith quickly fell behind 0-2, but Post 20 coach Mack Hite told him to look for a high, inside fastball.
Orangeburg pitcher Chris Sweatman left the ball over the middle of the plate, and Smith deposited it into the trees beyond the left field fence.
“We scored those two runs and they came back and got one,” Smith said. “We knew we couldn’t get too comfortable and had to get some insurance runs. I did what I had to do, it’s not something you plan.
“He just missed his spot. I got lucky.”
After giving his team the 4-1 advantage, Smith went back out to the mound in the eighth and shut down Orangeburg once again. He finished the game with eight innings pitched giving up four hits, two walks and striking out four.
“Blake was huge for us,” Hite said. “That’s exactly what we expect to get from him every time on the mound, and his hitting has been a key part of our success this year, too. That was a huge home run for us in a big spot, and that really gave us a shot in the arm to get us going.”
Post 20 tacked on two more runs in the eighth before Josh Chaney worked his way around two runs in the top of the ninth to close out the game, giving the Braves the 6-3 win.
Despite losing the opening game and falling behind in the best-of-5 series, Orangeburg coach Frank Leysath thought his team played well.
“They’ve got a good ball club, there ain’t no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Leysath said. “But I thought we hung with them. We just have to hit the ball better. We’ve got to hit the ball and play a little bit better.”
The teams square off in Game 2 today at 7 p.m. in Orangeburg.