Baseball season

Baseball season is underway.

More than a few baseball fans from around the state noticed the beatings Carolina Forest took in the IP Classic last week and wondered if the Panthers were the team many believed them to be.

So when Thane Maness’ team fell behind by three runs Tuesday at North Myrtle Beach, even the coach himself wondered if his squad was still in its early season funk. Carolina Forest, instead, reversed course and scored the final four runs of the game to beat the Class 4A No. 5 Chiefs 4-3, picking up the Panthers' second win in as many games.

“It could be a huge boost for us coming out of last week,” said Maness, the team’s second-year head coach. “We did not play well. There were a lot of good teams [at the IP Classic]. But we did not play well. Particularly, we didn’t pitch well.”

Carolina Forest, ranked No. 8 in the South Carolina Baseball Coaches Association Class 5A preseason poll (updated rankings are expected later this week or next), fell into the hole against the Chiefs after North Myrtle Beach scored one run each in the second, third and fourth innings. The Chiefs offense got RBIs from Sawyer Smith, CJ Oxendine - who blasted a solo home run in the third - and Cody Rice.

However, what North Myrtle Beach had also done through that point was strand four base runners in scoring position.

It was enough of a crack to let Carolina Forest get back in the game.

In the top of the fifth, Brad Wohlers’ RBI groundout put the Panthers on the board. A bases loaded walk in the sixth from Tristan Henne made it a one-score game. Three straight wild pitches after Isaac Hand’s seventh-inning single allowed him to score and tie the game. Not long after, Josh Watson’s single up the middle drove in Jackson McCoy for the eventual game winner.

Senior Andrew Buffkin closed it out in the bottom of the seventh in order.

All of a sudden, the pitching that looked awful during the IP Classic - when Carolina Forest allowed 41 runs in four games - had done its job against the front runner in Region VI-4A.

“This gets the ball rolling,” Buffkin said. “We had a rough start. But our thing is ‘JYD.’ Junk yard dogs. We just want to compete. We had to get back in the win column. We did that Sunday [in the IP Classic consolation round] and we did it again tonight.”

For North Myrtle Beach coach Brian Alderson, he stressed how this was the type of game the Chiefs better know how to win down the line if they’re going to live up to their own lofty preseason ranking, one built upon a lineup loaded with likely future college prospects and even a few NCAA Division-I verbal commitments. It didn’t matter that this was the Chiefs’ third ranked opponent in five games to open the 2023 season.

Alderson was more focused on the laundry list of critiques for loss No. 1.

“We’ve got to learn,” Alderson said. “We’ve got to learn how to play in these environments. We’ve got to learn how to play when there’s a little bit of electricity in the air. We’ve got to learn how to come from behind and hold leads late in the game. All the bunts we didn’t get down or the pitches we didn’t make, we’ve got to learn from that and get better.”

Carolina Forest wasn’t shy about how it needed to learn from its own shortcomings.

The IP Classic was ugly, yes. But it wasn’t anything that realistically doomed a squad with such high hopes for this spring.

“We pitched better but not great. We hadn’t swung the bat,” Maness said of his team's early deficit Tuesday. “But it’s baseball. If you can just hang in there and give yourself a shot at the end - we don’t beat people by 10 runs. We win close games. I feel good when we’re in close games.”

Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236


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