EASLEY—Wil Hartsell didn’t do the job he was asked to do when he was sent in as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning of Saturday’s Big League World Series game between the Easley-based host team and Southeast champion Florida
And Manager Gregg Powell and the rest of the Easley team could not be happier.
After failing in two bunt attempts, Hartsell powered a two-run home run and Easley held on for a 4-2 victory over Florida. Easley is now 2-1 in US pool play and has another must-win situation against Texas at 1:30 p.m. Sunday to keep its hopes alive of making it the Tuesday’s semifinals.
“I pinch hit Wil because I thought he could bunt Will Porter (on first base) over,” said Powell. “He didn’t get the job done there, but he hit a great shot for a home run”
Hartsell almost didn’t get the chance. His second bunt attempt was popped up and was nearly caught by the Florida catcher who dove for the ball and just missed it. His next swing easily cleared the left field wall.
“I was glad to have another chance,” said Hartsell. “After that, I was looking for a fastball and I got one. I knew it was gone when I hit it.”
Powell said he felt “relieved and great” after getting the win over Florida.
“Florida always has a great team and they always want to beat us,” he said.
Easley jumped on top of the first inning. Justin Allen walked and then stole second and scored on a single by Zach Steele. Will Porter came in to run for Steele and scored on a fielder’s choice to give Easley a 2-0 lead.
Florida got a run in the fourth when Carter Cashman reached first on an error. He scored on a fielder’s choice to cut the lead to 2-1.
The game remained 2-1 until the sixth inning when Jordan Savinon singled and later scored to tie the game at 2-2. Cashman reached third after a double. With one out, Florida attempted to bunt to score Cashman but the ball was hit directly to Easley pitcher Stephen McKnight, who threw home. Cashman was caught in a rundown between third and home. McKnight tagged Cashman out and then struck out the next batter to end the inning.
Easley came to bat in the top of the seventh. Will Porter walked and then Hartsell fouled off two bunt attempts before hitting the two-run home run.
Florida staged a two-out rally and loaded the bases. Colby Loggins came in to relieve McKnight and got Cashman to ground out to the third baseman to preserve the win.
“I just wanted to finish it,” said Loggins, who hit a home run in Friday’s win over New Jersey. “This team has great chemistry. Everybody pulls together and encourages each other.”
McKnight, who gave up five hits and two runs and had seven strikeouts, said he was disappointed he did not get the last batter out, but was happy with his performance.
“I think this is probably the best game I’ve ever pitched,” he said.
Powell agreed that McKnight had his best pitching performance Saturday night.
“ He did a great job,” Powell said. This is the best game he has pitched.”
The game was delayed for 15-20 minutes in the top of the third inning when Florida Manager Matt Morrow protested that the bat Steele was using was an illegal bat. Morrow had made the same protest earlier but the umpires ruled the bat legal. When Morrow came out in the third, he told umpires he wanted officials to contact the Little League Baseball headquarters in Williamsport, PA to get a ruling. Tournament Director Jon Humphrey made a call to Little League and found the bat was illegal and Steele was called out before he saw a pitch.
Powell said the particular bat had been ruled illegal by Little League Baseball earlier this month, but the umpires were not aware of the change. Powell asked the umpires to look at all bats in the dugout before restarting play since a second call of an illegal bat in the game could have resulted in the ejection of the manager.
“The World Series needs to supply the bats for this series so we have bats that we know are legal and the kids can leave their bats at home,” Powell said.