You’ll have to excuse the Socastee players who had to ask exactly what the next step of the playoffs is – no current Brave has been in this position before.
Socastee used a monster second inning to beat Hanahan 8-3 in the winner’s bracket of the Class AAA District VII playoffs Tuesday. The win sends coach Steve Hodge’s team into the district finals, which it will play at home Friday. Win one game – out of a possible two – and the Braves will be heading to the Lower State playoffs for the first time since 2007.
That’s also the year the current crop of seniors was wrapping up seventh grade.
But if it wasn’t clear during the regular season, it should be now. This isn’t the same Socastee team that was finishing behind St. James and Georgetown in the region standings before being knocked out of the playoffs early.
“As soon as we beat St. James [in the regular-season finale], it was finally a reality that we were region champs,” senior Blake Smith said. “Going out here and winning these playoff games is proving people wrong – that we actually a pretty good team, [a team] to be reckoned with. We beat these teams that are amazing teams.”
Hanahan, which moved up to Class AAA after finishing as the Class AA Lower State runner up a season ago, may not be a state title contender yet, but it was clear Socastee took care of business against another quality opponent.
The Braves did it much the same way they have all year – with a two-out rally.
This time around it happened in the second inning. The Braves had runners at first and second before three walks and a single gave Socastee a 3-2 advantage.
Smith then came to the plate with the bases loaded and delivered the biggest lump of damage. Her grand slam put Socastee up 7-2. The center fielder then added a solo shot – also with two outs – in the bottom of the eighth to add another insurance run.
“We’ve score more runs with two outs – whether that be lucky or whatever,” Hodge said. “These girls, they just don’t give up. Even if we have two outs, they still think they’re in the game. We’ve kind of grown up. They believe they can win instead of they need to be beat.”
That transition has certainly happened. It started even earlier than Smith’s original assessment, according to the coach.
Hodge said the team’s run through the Grand Strand Softball Invitational and a mid-week region victory over Georgetown in that same time frame kick-started the mental process. From there, the regular-season finale victory over St. James – in which the Sharks came back before Socastee ended it in the bottom of the seventh – only added to the confidence level.
The Braves will await Thursday’s Airport-Hanahan winner, and play yet another home game. Socastee will have two cracks at winning one game in order to advance. Do that, and the Braves get a clean slate in the Class AAA Lower State tournament.
“I don’t think it’s become reality yet,” Smith said. “I think we’re just coming out here treating it as if it’s any other game and not putting a lot of pressure on ourselves. We’re pretending it’s a game during the regular season. It hasn’t really set in yet that we’ve already gone pretty far in the playoffs.”