The Braves first baseman had just taken one heck of an ugly swing. He barely moved his feet, didn’t shift his weight and lazily swung with little more than his arms.
Hudson called time and had a few words with his senior.
“Coach told me to take a good swing, and I did,” Murphy said.
Hudson’s description of the conversation was a little more detailed.
“‘Son, I probably haven’t said this to but one or two kids in 37 years: I’d rather you take a hack strikeout that a weak-swing ground ball double play.’” Hudson said. “I said, ‘Take a hack.’”
On the very next pitch, Murphy put everything he had into it, drilling the ball 12 feet over the centerfield wall for his fourth and fifth RBIs of the game. It gave the Braves a 9-7 lead that would stick over St. James in the series opener between the two Region VI-5A rivals.
Socastee, now 8-0 overall and 4-0 in region play, has at least a two-game lead over the three teams — St. James, Conway and Sumter — who have played four region contest (Carolina Forest is 0-1 after Monday’s loss to Conway).
It wasn’t a surprise, then, that the Braves were unveiled in the statewide polls earlier in the day Monday after sweeping Sumter last week. Socastee, tied for 10th place in Class 5A, essentially replaced St. James. But while all that is a talking point, Monday’s first blood in the series was a huge step toward backing it up.
And much like his extra-inning home run, Murphy had a huge role in the Braves’ biggest frame, too. In the second, with the help of his bases clearing, three-RBI double, Socastee dropped six runs. It put Hudson’s squad up 6-3, but the offense wasn’t done from either squad.
St. James had already scored three first-inning runs and then added one more in both the second and fifth. Two more followed in the sixth that would eventually send the game to extras. In the midst of all that, though, the Braves put five guys on base after being hit by pitches.
“This is the first game we’ve had all year where the pitching hasn't been as sharp as it has been,” Sharks coach Robbie Centracchio said. “That’s been our biggest strength this year, both the depth of and the top end of it. Braiden’s not going to have an outing like that every time. And even after Braiden, we still hit some guys.”
Braiden, in this case, is freshman hurler Braiden Eagen, who has become the series opening pitcher for St. James despite his freshman status. And if the Sharks are going to stay in the thick of the playoff race, he’ll certainly need to have more outings like he did last week against Conway or his performance in the Coastal Invitational preseason tournament prior to that.
For now, though, this region is Socastee’s to lose. That distinction may seem premature, given that the Braves still have eight contests left — and two more this week against the Sharks.
But undefeated Socastee got a huge boost Monday, thanks to a player listening to his coach’s honest advice.
“It gives us an opportunity to keep pounding it,” Murphy said. “We’re playing great as a team right now. We’re coming together as one.”