Camden’s surging Bulldogs earned their first state baseball title shot in 20 years by completing a 3-0 roll to the Class 3A Upper State championship with an 8-3 win over St. James on Friday before an overflow crowd at Legion Field.
“I’ve been in a state championship series before as an assistant coach (at Stratford), but I’ve never experienced that kind of atmosphere before,” said Camden coach Denny Beckley. “It was really something to see the way the two crowds interacted during the game.”
For to the point, the Bulldogs rallied from a 3-1 deficit with a seven-run burst in the bottom of the sixth inning to avoid a second game and move on to the best-of-three state championship series for the first time since 1989. Camden, 22-7 and riding a nine-game winning streak, opens the finals today at Belton-Honea Path.
Camden scored first on Bryant Salmond’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the third inning, but the visiting Sharks counted with a run in the fourth and went ahead on Kelly Wright’s two-run home run in the 6th off Camden starter Kris Nelson. The Bulldogs, however, had a quick and decisive riposte in the bottom half of the inning. Camden loaded the bases with no outs to set up a parade of runners crossing the dish. Tyler Pike scored first on an error. Bryant Salmond came home on a single by Alvonta’ Jenkins. Trey Brazell drew a bases-leaded walk to force in Brandon Kersey. Robert McKinney then broke it open with a two-run single.
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Nelson went the distance to improve to 5-2 on the season, 3-0 in the playoffs.
Beckley will send Pike to the mound for the championship series opener. The senior left-hander is 6-2 with a 2.65 ERA.
Offensively, the Bulldogs sport a .344 team batting average and have scored 224 runs. The leaders include Kersey (.409, 17 runs, 12 RBIs), Salmond (.338, 20 runs, 19 RBIs, 13 steals), McKinney (.384, 29 runs, 19 RBIs), Jack LaFrage (.420, 28 runs, 24 RBIs), DaVante’ Hayes (.410, 15 runs) and Jenkins (.340, 15 runs, 15 RBIs).
Camden is shooting for its sixth state championship. The Bulldogs claimed three in a row between 1956 and 1958 (two in old Class A and one in AA), and added 3A titles in the modern era in 1988 and 1989.
The 2009 best-of-three series moves to Legion Field on Wednesday.