North Myrtle Beach couldn’t officially celebrate anything after Monday’s win over its biggest rival.
But the Chiefs knew.
Even with another game against Myrtle Beach on deck, they can begin preparing mentally for the playoffs. Given what they’ve been mostly doing the last 44 days, it won’t be much of a change.
Brian Alderson’s team, which started our region play with a pair of losses to Hartsville, has won eight of its last nine Region VI-4A contests, a figure that makes North Myrtle Beach a virtual lock for the postseason.
“We put our backs against the wall early in the year. It seemed like every time we stepped on the field, we knew we couldn’t afford to screw another one up,” Alderson said after his team beat the Seahawks 8-0 at home. “Now, it seems like we’ve got a little bit of breathing room. The piano’s off our back.”
No matter how the final two days of the region slate shake out — and it will be relatively busy with one more game in the the Myrtle Beach-North Myrtle Beach and South Florence-West Florence series and both games of a home-and-home between Hartsville and Darlington — the Chiefs (8-3 in region play) can finish no worse than in third place once the final standings are determined and sent to the S.C. High School League for admittance into the playoffs.
They own every possible two-team or three-team tiebreaker involving current fourth-place team West Florence. And while South Florence is technically the only team that has punched an automatic ticket, the region’s third-place team is about as much of a lock for one of the two lower state at-large bids as there can be.
That’s all the case because the Chiefs took care of Myrtle Beach in relatively easy fashion.
Starting pitcher Billy Barlow, who was on a strict pitch count so he’d be available for Saturday’s playoff opener, threw a one-hitter, not allowing that hit until the top of the sixth inning. He also struck out 12 Seahawks.
The Chiefs offense helped provide plenty of cushion. It scored two in the first inning off Luke Rice’s single, added two more in the second, thanks to a pair of balks and an error, another in the fourth off a throwing error, two more in the fifth (again, thanks to some Myrtle Beach miscues) and one more in the sixth via a wild pitch.
Basically, the game wasn’t in doubt after the first inning or two, and feeling of this North Myrtle Beach team couldn’t have been much different than it was on the same field a little over seven weeks ago.
Instead of talking about what it would take to get to the postseason, the conversation was about what the Chiefs can do once they start.
“When the playoffs start, we’re going to play at our best ability,” Barlow said. “This team is something that I feel North Myrtle has never had. If we all play to the best of our ability, we’re going to play well for these playoff games. I don’t think there’s anyone who can stop us.”