MURRELLS INLET — The St. James softball team has been to four consecutive Lower State tournaments.
If it wants to make it five straight, something needs to change in a hurry.
The Sharks were beaten 5-1 at home by Darlington Friday night in the first round of the Class AAA, District VIII-AAA playoffs. And for the first time during that stretch, St. James failed to do something it has so well in the past handful of years.
Defend its home-field advantage.
“We’ve encountered a lot of situations this year that we never expected,” Sharks coach Adams Jones said. “We’ve fought some. But now we’ve told them our backs are against the wall. We got down early, and we’re not very good at coming back right now.
“Physically, we’ve shown throughout the season we can do it. Right now, it’s the mental part, and that’s the hardest part.”
Jones was not speaking so much big picture as he was in individual games. The Sharks lost their region finale against Socastee, and then lost by a run to Conway earlier this week in a tune-up game for the postseason.
Darlington continued that trend, jumping out to a three-run lead on a Jada Richardson’s homerun in the top of the third. The Falcons then added two more in the sixth inning, with the help of a Shark error and a fielder’s indifference.
St. James finally got on the board on the seventh, but by that point, one wasn’t going to cut it. Up to that inning, Darlington pitcher Ramsey Sherrill had held the Sharks offense to just two hits.
The loss not only means the Sharks on the brink of having their season end in the double-elimination tournament; they also know they lost a great opportunity at seizing home-field advantage. On Thursday, No. 4 seed Swansea upset Berkeley in the first round.
Instead of playing at home Monday (and potentially again in the district finals, St. James is guaranteed to be on the road those two nights.
“We all know what we have to do; we all have our jobs we have to do,” senior Alexis Gunnell said. “They always push us to have intensity. Right now, we’re waiting on getting it up a little more. I think it’s because we all believe we’re so good. We’ve got to put it to work.”
If St. James is able to defeat Berkeley on the road Monday, it would then face the loser of Monday’s Darlington-Swansea game on Wednesday.
Win there, and the Sharks would have to then play the Darlington-Swansea winner on the road Friday, needing to beat that team twice in one night to advance. It won’t be an easy task.
But Jones isn’t ruling his team out just yet.
“We still see that spark – that little glimpse of heart and soul that have gotten [through] district and into Lower State before,” he said. “We’ve never given up on our girls, and they’re not going to give up. I don’t think they will. We still have a chance. We’re going to believe in them until it’s all over.”