Laurence Manning Academy took the high ground in the SCISA Class 3A baseball semifinals, downing Hammond, 3-1, Tuesday in the series opener at Folsom Field.
The Swampcats (22-4) have a chance to close out the best-of-three series today at home and advance to next week’s championship series. Hammond (21-7) must win to force a decisive third game Friday at a neutral site.
Laurence Manning junior pitchers Mark Pipkin and Russell Thompson combined for a two-hit gem against the potent Skyhawks. Pipkin, who was making his second start of the season, allowed one earned run on two hits, one intentional walk, and two hit batters in four innings. Sidewinder Thompson tossed three hitless, shutout innings in relief and pitched out of a two-on, one-out jam in the seventh to save Pipkin’s decision.
“In the playoffs, you can run a little short of pitching, but we were confident Mark would go out and throw strikes,” Laurence Manning coach Billy Sylvester said. “He mixed things up well, kept them off balance and gave us a chance to win, which is all we were asking of him.
“Russell’s been doing the job for us in this kind of situation all season. We never hesitate to give him the ball when we have to protect a lead late in the game.”
Hammond coach Ray Derrick was a bit surprised by the quality of the Swampcats’ pitching.
“I didn’t expect to be overwhelmed or anything, but when you get only two hits, you give credit to the pitching,” he said. “Both of their kids really threw well. We had some chances, but we didn’t get the key hit.”
The Skyhawks came back to win a quarterfinals series from Orangeburg Prep last week after dropping the first game to the Indians, and they are hoping for a repeat performance.
“We’ll be fine if we hit the baseball,” Derrick said. “That’s the bottom line for us.”
Hammond left two runners on base in the second, third and seventh innings. The lone Skyhawks run came in the third on a RBI single by William Love, who had both Hammond hits.
The Swampcats scored runs in the third and fifth innings on two-out RBI singles by designated hitter Blake Winans and first baseman Thomas Walker. In the seventh, J.T. Eppley singled with one out, moved to second on an errant pickoff attempt and scored on another Hammond throwing error.
“We didn’t hit the ball much, but we got some guys on base, moved them over and put the ball in play,” Sylvester said. “Those two-out hits were the difference.”
Hammond pitcher Fred Wadsworth was in trouble all night — allowing six hits with three walks and one hit batsmen — but the junior right-hander kept the Skyhawks close.