Good pitching and defense early bought some time for Orangeburg Post 4 to get its offense cranked up midway through Friday night's 7-2 home win against Aiken Post 26.
The win put Post 4 at 2-0 early in the American Legion Baseball season, while also giving the team a 1-0 record in pool play to open the 15th-annual Post 1 Invitational Tournament, which will continue play in Florence on Saturday and Sunday. Orangeburg will play Florence Post 1 at American Legion Field in Florence at 11 a.m. on Saturday, before playing Dalzell-Shaw Post 175 at the same field at 1:30 p.m. Results in pool play will determine match-ups for Sunday in Florence.
On Friday, Heston Thompson pitched a full six innings, striking out four, while allowing just one hit and no earned runs. He missed Tuesday's season-opening win, but with good reason. As a senior selection to the South Carolina Baseball Coaches' Association's Class 5A/2A/1A South All-Star Team in the North/South All-Star Games, Thompson was in Lexington, where he pitched three innings, allowing just one earned run on two hits, while striking out three.
"My fastball was working good tonight, so I was just going up there and getting after the batters," Thompson said. "If they hit the ball, I knew my defense would do the work.
"This season should be fun. We've got a good group and we should have a good ride and a good summer. It would be good to get a few more wins in this tournament, get a few more under our belt early."
Thompson's Branchville High School teammate Hunter Bauer helped Post 4 with offense on Friday, going 3-for-3 with 2 RBI and 2 runs scored. And even going to two relief pitchers in the final inning, Orangeburg posted a two-hitter.
"I was real proud of the guys tonight, starting slow but the bats finally heated up," Post 4 head coach Dukes Isgett said. "We didn't string a lot of hits together, but Hunter was a catalyst for the team.
"We've had different guys stepping up at different times in our scrimmage with Sumter and in our first two games. That's what you need to win during a season. Everybody has got to contribute, and with this team everybody is doing something to help us win. Florence will be a very good measuring stick for us to see where we are. We are excited for the weekend, ready to play. Once we start hitting consistently through the lineup, we will be a tough team to beat."
Aiken got one run early on Friday. Brandon Paradise reached base in the third inning on a two-out fielding error. One batter later, Dalton Graves plated Paradise from first with a double to right-center. It was the only hit Thompson allowed, but it put Post 26 up 1-0.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Post 4 struck for four runs in the fourth inning. Will Rickenbaker (1-for-1, 2 walks, stolen base, run scored) led off with a walk against Aiken starter Brad Golden (3-plus innings, 4 hits, 3 walks, 3 earned runs). Deuce Bailey (1-for-1, 2 walks) followed with a walk, getting pinch runner Ben Journey on the base path. Joshua Edwards then bunted into a throwing error that plated Rickenbaker with the tying run. Bauer then made the visitors pay, driving in Journey and Edwards with a double to right field. One out later, Austin Sandifer drove a sacrifice fly to center field, plating Bauer for a 4-1 Orangeburg lead.
Through the next two innings, Thompson pitched into three flyouts and three groundouts, as no Aiken batter safely reached first.
That left Post 4 primed to score some more runs, plating three in the sixth inning. Bauer and Skye Foster had back-to-back singles to start the at-bat and, after a fielder's choice groundout, Heath LaChance loaded the bases by drawing a walk. That set the table for Noah Bearden to get a two-run single for a 7-1 lead.
Savon Stokes relieved Thompson in the top of the seventh. But, his time on the mound lasted all of one batter, as he walked Hunter Corley. Sandifer came on to finish on the mound, but a single and a throwing error allowed Corley to score for the 7-2 final.
Bryant Rachels, T.J. Green and Trent Northrup each pitched in relief for Aiken across the final three innings. Northrup shouldered the three earned runs in the sixth, but Golden took the loss from Orangeburg's fourth-inning success.