When it came to decision week, against the last remaining threat to St. James’ region championship hopes, the Sharks chose violence.
St. James completed the run-heavy sweep over Sumter on Friday night at home, winning 12-5. The team finished the series with 34 total runs and earned the Region VI-5A title — along with a No. 1 playoff seed.
And it was all thanks to the team’s singular philosophy.
“We practice hitting the ball hard, and then our No. 1 goal when we step into the box is just to destroy something,” head coach Adam Jones said. “They have no other responsibility except destroying the softball — doing some damage.”
That mindset started in February, when most of the team’s practices were rained out and the Sharks were forced into the cage day after day. They carried it into the start of the regular season, and this is a squad that has now averaged 11.5 runs per game against in-state competition.
Pounding out this type of production against a team that could still clinch the region’s other playoff bid, though, meant so much more than doing it against some lesser competition. Leadoff hitter Melanie Spielman was two-for-three with a single, a double and four RBIs. Third baseman Natalie Spiva hit a pair of home runs, notched three RBIs and scored three runs. Shortstop Jenny-Lynn Johnson was four-for-four with two RBIs and two runs.
And the bottom four batters in the lineup — Kaitlyn Elko, Raegan Tibbits, Ella Dixon and Heidi Stewart — reached base a total of seven times and scored six runs.
It all dwarfed a two-home run, five-RBI night from Sumter’s Josie Self, and clearly, this was no dink-and-dunk effort.
“We can play small ball when we want to — slapping and bunting and stealing and all that,” Spielman said. “But I think we all have a lot of power and we need to use it. If we put the ball in play, that’s more chances for them to make a mistake, and then you can just bank on that.”
The team has even adopted the Cobra Kai mentality (“Strike first, strike hard, no mercy”) and has an outfield flag and a boatload of stickers around the dugout to prove it.
That approach and Friday’s run tally, then, were definitive in more ways than one.
“I think we’re starting to figure out what it takes to beat a team three times,” Jones said. “We beat Georgetown twice and then lost to them. We didn’t sweep Conway. We didn’t sweep Socastee; we had them on the ropes and let them get away. That’s what we’ve been looking for. How are we going to finish? Can we take that next step up?”
The Sharks will close out region play with next week’s series against the current last-place team, Carolina Forest. Then, there are five non-region games prior to the playoffs.
It would be easy to let up, but that wouldn’t jive with their swing first, swing hard, no mercy philosophy.