The Conway baseball team entered the preseason with at least three expected future NCAA Division-I players, and plenty of potential to boot.
Behind South Carolina signee Jordan Gore, Coastal Carolina signee G.K. Young and now-Florida verbal commitment Grant Holmes, the Tigers were ranked as highly as No. 2 in the Class AAAA state polls this season. They now find themselves needing to pull together all at once.
Conway will head to Summerville Thursday for a first-round playoff game. A loss in the double-elimination district format the South Carolina High School League employs will leave them in rough shape. Beat the Green Wave, however, and visions of possible better times emerge.
Welcome to the start of the playoffs.
“The first game’s always the big one,” coach Anthony Carroll said. “A lot of people think about pitching their second guy and saving their best guy for the second round. I feel like Game 1 is so important. It can get you on the right track and give your guys some confidence.
“The last couple years in Round 1, we haven’t fared real well.”
Carroll said he will start Holmes against Summerville in order to help his team change its recent trend. After playing for the Class AAAA state title in 2008 and then making the Lower State finals series in 2009, the Tigers missed the playoffs in 2010, and were eliminated after three games in 2011. Conway was ushered out of the playoffs after just two games in 2012.
“I guess you could say there is some pressure for us to do well,” Carroll said. “But we’re going to get ready like we have for every other game this year.”
That’s the approach f many of the 23 Grand Strand baseball and softball teams (out of 26) whose season continues. Some enter the playoffs with very realistic hopes of a deep playoff run.
Runyon one last time
The Carolina Forest softball team certainly falls into that category – a squad led by Alabama signee Marisa Runyon, making her final appearances after strong careers in both softball and basketball over the last three seasons. The Panthers’ roster also includes defending All-State selection Sara Sweatt, pitcher Emily Merriam and plenty more with playoff experience. It is part of the reason the Panthers held onto the state’s top ranking for much of the year and were included in national rankings for several weeks.
A year ago this time, Carolina Forest was starting a run to the Class AAAA finals against Hillcrest. They fell short, but when former Andrews coach Meagan Johnson took over the program this year, she knew another lengthy run in the playoffs was a strong possibility.
The Panthers and Region VI-AAAA rival Conway – which qualified for the playoffs for the first time in five seasons – will open the playoffs Thursday night. Carolina Forest will be at home against North Augusta, while the Tigers will head to Bluffton.
St. James in familiar territory
Robbie Centracchio’s St. James team reloaded like few in the area can and won its fourth consecutive region title. Primary pitcher Anders DeShields has continued his success from his junior season. Kasey Crooks, another senior, has a 0.95 ERA so far this year in nine appearances for the Sharks (20-6). Classmates Carter Brakefield and Caleb Duggan have provided a spark in the top half of the lineup. Meanwhile, junior Trent Revis hit .350 during the regular season, and sophomore Dillon LeDuc was north of .350.
The future has potential. But the Sharks’ current roster has dreams of adding another state-title trophy to the one they earned in 2011.
St. James will be joined in the playoffs by three of the teams they beat out for the Region VII-AAA crown. Socastee, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach also all have an opportunity to make some noise. All four squads, as well as the four Region VII-AAA softball teams – Socastee, St. James, Georgetown and Myrtle Beach – will begin their quests for a postseason victories Friday.
The Grand Strand Class AA and Class A teams, like their Class AAAA counterparts, won’t have to wait that long.
The Waccamaw baseball and softball squads each finished the Region VIII-AA schedules strong. The Warriors’ baseball team earned a No. 1 seed in the Class AA playoffs with a crucial win last week over Aynor, while Scott Streiffert’s softball team won 15 straight before falling to Dillon Monday in an added game that decided the regular-season tie-breaker between the two programs.
Fellow area Class AA schools Andrews, Aynor and Loris also sent both squads to the postseason, as did local Class A programs Carvers Bay and Green Sea-Floyds.