FLORENCE, S.C. – Florence Post 1 coach Derick Urquhart is not happy his League 2 championship team has to play Monday’s first round of the state tournament's final four at League 2 runner-up Sumter.
“Right now, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact we won our league over Sumter. We have a better playoff record than them and all that,” Urquhart said of the game, which starts at 7:30 p.m. at Riley Park (tickets are $8). Post 1 has won four state titles this decade, and Sumter won four in the previous one. “But yet we have to go TO Sumter for the first game, giving a No. 2 seed home-field advantage over a No. 1 seed. I’m trying to figure out the state committee’s reasoning, which I had not been given.”
According to the state tournament committee’s Twitter account responding to Hartsville baseball’s Twitter asking the same question, the response was: “(Post 1) hosted last season and per the State Rule book no team will host the offsite games 2 years in a row.”
That did not satisfy Urquhart.
“I know what they’re saying, since we hosted last year,” Urquhart said. “But at some point, common sense needs to take precedence. That rule was supposed to be in place if a League No. 1 seed played another League No. 1. But if it was 1 vs. 2 or 1 vs. 3, then that was supposed to be null and void. You scratch your head on some of the decisions that our committee has made. But you’ve got to roll with it.”
Florence's 2-0 record this season at Sumter helps Urquhart's frustrations subside. As for the rest of the state double-elimination tournament, it resumes Wednesday through Friday at Columbia's Segra Park. The top two finishers advance to the Southeast Regionals in Tampa, Fla.
After an emotional series against Camden, in which Post 1 won 3-1, Urquhart talked about how excited his team is to play in front of Sumter and Florence’s fans.
“It’s just a great atmosphere there at both fields. I’ll be the first to argue that Riley Park should host the state tournament. They do it the right way up there. It’ll be fun, enjoyable,” Urquhart said. “It’s a rivalry, but the Sumter fans are classy; they respect the game of baseball. They respect the opposing teams.
“Last week (at Camden), that wasn’t the case,” he added. “Our guys had to battle some adversity on the field with some of the fans in Camden. But I’m proud of the way our guys handled it. So, we’re looking for another good battle Monday with Sumter.”
It remains to be seen if Anthony Hopkins will start Game 1 for Florence like he did in the openers against Camden and Lexington. That’s because Urquhart is still happy about how Timmy Felder contained Camden after it hit a three-run homer in Game 3 of the last series.
With a deep staff like Florence’s, Urquhart has options.
“At this point, we’re going to go with matchups and put our best percentages out there that will give us a chance to win,” Urquhart said.
Perhaps Post 1’s key decision these playoffs was made halfway through the Lexington series when he moved cleanup hitter Noah Carter to leadoff and backed leadoff hitter D.P. Pendergrass to the second spot.
Post 1’s batting order has been powerful ever since, constantly putting pressure on pitchers with its hitting and speed along the bases.
“It puts our two highest on-base percentage guys at the top of the lineup,” Urquhart said. “Noah leads the team in on-base percentage not just with his hitting, but with his walks. Behind him, Pendergrass is a second leadoff-type guy. He has the ability to bunt, hit and run and slap it around a little bit.”
The team’s leading RBI producers – Will Hardee, Austin Moore and Owen Taylor – then have prime chances to drive in even more runs.
But what hurt Post 1 in its four losses this season were errors and walks.
“You’ve got to be able to play good defense,” Urquhart said. “You can’t afford to have a game giving up 10 runs and using three or four pitchers in a game and burning up arms.
“We’ve got to be at our best.”