Craig Martin was never really good at biting his tongue.
Hiding his emotions, good or bad?
With his hair and black polo soaked from a post-game bath, the fiery Myrtle Beach boys basketball coach was able to don a hefty smile late Tuesday night in the hallway adjacent to the school’s basketball court. His Seahawk players had just extended the season with a 58-47 win over rival North Myrtle Beach in the third round of the 4A state playoffs, punching Myrtle Beach’s ticket to Friday’s state semifinal game in Florence.
The smile wasn’t just about one victory.
It was about everything that led up to it.
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be going to the lower state. Now it’s just a matter of if we can do what we need to do when we get to the lower state,” Martin said. “We prepared early on. You know, we had some bad losses. But I’m really starting to think we learned from those, as frustrating as they were. Who knows how far we can go now?”
That’s a viable question after a third consecutive double-digit playoff win. The Seahawks built such a lead against North Myrtle Beach moments into the second quarter and then withstood several moments of Chiefs’ clarity and Seahawk miscues to ensure the final score was of a similar advantage.
Emorie Knox, the standout senior, dropped 23 points and six steals in front of his future coach, Charleston Southern’s Barclay Radebaugh. Fellow guard James Marques scored 15 of his own, including several down the stretch during a burst that all but put the game away.
A few others had their chances to get the sold-out gym on its feet.
Much like the Feb. 7 meeting between these two teams, though, so much of what went right or wrong — depending on your perspective — came down to the free-throw line. Myrtle Beach was 19-of-26 from the stripe.
The Chiefs were 10-of-26.
“We’ve tried every psychological thing,” first-year coach Ryan Walker said. “We’ve tried joking with them. We’ve tried being hard on them. We’ve tried everything. The fact is it almost caught us in the last game at North Augusta. [Against Myrtle Beach], it cost us.”
It was a cruel twist for a North Myrtle Beach team that had done so much to this point. After winning just seven games a year ago, the Chiefs finished the season at 20-6 and made their deepest playoff run since 2007.
In the end, it was the team that snapped their 13-game winning streak to start the year that also ended their season.
Myrtle Beach will immediately have to turn its focus to A.C. Flora, the team it will face at approximately 8:30 p.m. Friday in the lower state finals at the Florence Center.
The Seahawks plan on relying on the same strategy that helped them get there. After all, just four games back, it seemed like it could go the other way.
It was then, in the regular-season finale against Hartsville, that Myrtle Beach dropped a clunker that would have delivered the Region VI-4A championship.
“We told each other this team was special. We can go far. We can change history,” Martin said. “That loss to Hartsville that day really hurt us. But we came back and worked hard and got ready to play.”
Because of it, only one more team stands in the way of a state title berth.
And Martin is fired up for the opportunity.