Locking up a playoff berth with a month to go in the season isn’t unheard of in high school baseball.
But to do it with half the bids available and coming off the weirdest 12-month span of ball these players have ever known? That’s a different story.
Socastee, winners of nine of their first 10 region games, including Monday’s 8-3 victory over Carolina Forest, can say just that. The Braves know they’re postseason bound with more than four weeks remaining in the regular season and can clinch the outright Region VI-5A crown with one more win over the Panthers during the rest of the three-game series this week.
“We feel pretty fortunate because of last year,” junior pitcher Tre Money said after his complete game performance. “We have that spot for the playoffs locked up, so it just feels good. Last year, we didn’t get a chance.”
In many ways, the most recent region win was a microcosm of the bulk of the season. Socastee put runners on base time and again and made them count by either continued hitting or pressuring the opponent into mistakes.
Caid Byrd, the only Brave starter to not reach base, had a pair of RBIs. Ethan Brekke scored three runs to go along with a double, single and walk.
The Panthers also helped with four errors and four passed balls or wild pitches that immediately resulted in runs.
Meanwhile, Money got stronger as the game went on. He retired each of the final nine Panthers he faced and prevented any chance of a late-game comeback. In total, he allowed just four hits, all of which came in the third, fourth and fifth innings.
He had more than enough run support to make it count and knock the Panthers off their game.
“We’re kind of in playoff mode right now with where we’re at,” Carolina Forest coach Joey Worley said. “If we want to go to the playoffs, we need to start right now. I don’t know if [Monday’s loss was because] we were tight or the playoff [atmosphere]. Tre kept us off balance.”
The Panthers are still alive for a region championship — even as slim as that may appear now — and certainly still one of the few teams not named Socastee still in the running for one of those two postseason berths. At 4-2 in region play, Carolina Forest is still a full game ahead of third-place St. James in the standings.
And while Worley said there may be some nerves involved given the relative youth of his team, it will have every opportunity to rebound and play ahead of schedule.
In the meantime, Socastee (9-1 in region, 16-2 overall) has plans to keep rolling down a path it saw laid out when it won the Coastal Invitational Tournament in March and then jumped right into region play.
“That first tournament we were playing, we were just hitting the ball really good and our pitchers were all throwing well,” Money said. “From there, it was like ‘We’re going to go pretty far.’”