Things tend to get hectic when the postseason looms, and Tuesday night’s Region VII-AAA matchup between Socastee and Myrtle Beach was no exception.
The Seahawks made it all the way to the state finals last year under coach Larry Church with Toast of the Coast Player of the Year Megan Milligan at the helm. The big difference this year is that the Seahawks were in a crowded Socastee gym, and Milligan was in Florida, having transferred to Lakeworth Christian School.
“Obviously when you have a player like Megan it’s once in a career for some people, but the biggest thing that Megan provided was that safety net,” Church said after a three-set loss (22-25, 25-23, 25-8, 25-19) to Socastee. “Shelby Sheets, who is a junior, is kind of filling that role, but obviously there’s some really big shoes to fill. And Megan was also surrounded by seniors, whereas Shelby’s surrounded by ninth- and 10th-graders, and eighth-graders, so Megan would definitely have them feeling like they could walk on that tight rope with the net underneath them, and Shelby provides some support but obviously it’s a tough burden for a young player.”
Socastee has been chomping at the bit for five years now, securing a fourth seed every year and failing to advance. A new-look Braves team has taken hold of success and sprinted away with it in a competitive region. The failed attempts at advancing in the playoffs have not gone unnoticed, and have provided substantial motivation as the postseason nears.
“Yes, a whole lot [of motivation],” Socastee coach Allyson Gordon said. “We’ve been talking about the difference between the travel from the parking lot to our gym as opposed to getting on the bus and riding four hours and playing. That’s been the big difference, because being in that second seed we would be at home.”
Home-court advantage certainly didn’t hurt Tuesday night, as the Braves moved to 5-2 and remained tied with St. James for second place in the region.
With an amped-up home crowd and a newfound resurgence Socastee secured a playoff spot with three matches remaining.
However, the Braves have bigger goals.
“Every game is just a game to get a little bit closer to our goal, and that is of course for everybody making it to the state finals,” Gordon said. “We just take it one day at a time, one game at a time, one week at a time.”
Myrtle Beach, meanwhile, took a bit of a step back with the loss. The Seahawks fell to 3-4 in the region and sit in fourth place.
Church expects his team to make the proper adjustments as the postseason approaches.
“We’ll spend a lot more time working on the basic skills, we’ll serve the ball a lot more, we’ll pass a lot more in practice. It’s all about ball control in the playoffs,” Church said. “You can have some big hitters, but when you’re playing against teams that all serve the ball well, that pass the ball well, it’s just about playing defense and having really sound fundamentals.”
But on Tuesday night Socastee proved to be the team with all the answers. After losing the first game, the Braves reeled off three straight with increasingly bigger margins of victory.
Church couldn’t quite pinpoint the reason for his team’s drop-off toward the end.
“That’s the million dollar question. As soon as I figure that out I’ll make millions,” he said. “They’re great kids and they play hard. Socastee has a young team as well. Sometimes in this hostile environment youth is a huge factor. Socastee played hard, they really did.”