If the remaining four teams in the Class AAA Lower State football playoffs didn’t have a sense of just how competitive a run toward the state championship is, they do now.
Socastee, Hartsville, Hanahan and Strom Thurmond have a combined record of 46-2. Socastee and Hartsville are each 12-0, while the latter two teams are each 11-1.
Those four teams represented four of the top six teams in the final regular-season poll for the Class AAA state rankings, and Hanahan has already knocked off the team that was No. 5 (Myrtle Beach).
In many ways, the four remaining teams have flexed their proverbial muscles at the right part of the season. Of the eight games they’ve played so far, they’ve won in impressive fashion. Only one game – Hanahan’s win over Myrtle Beach last week – has been decided by single digits.
The average score of the games has been 44-17.
But some of that comes via a rare anomaly for this time of year. The seedings for the Lower State portion of the Class AAA bracket held perfectly. Not only did the four No. 1 seeds advance to the semifinals; there were also no other upsets via a No. 3 seed defeating a No. 2.
The four remaining teams need only look at the Upper State bracket – where No. 3 seed Union County has sent two higher seeds packing – to see how fortunate they’ve been. So far, Socastee, Hartsville, Strom Thurmond and Hanahan have defended their home-field advantage.
That also means there will be no debate as to where the Lower State title game will be played. The winner of this week’s Socastee-Hartsville match-up will head to the winner of Hanahan-Strom Thurmond, a product of the alternating home-field advantage system utilized by the South Carolina High School League when playoff teams have the same seed. (It’s the same system that gave Socastee home-field advantage over Hartsville this week.)
The Class AAA state championship will then be played Dec. 1 at the University of South Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium.
Both Strom Thurmond and Hanahan were so close to reaching the state title game last year, albeit in a different class. Both teams moved up from Class AA starting this season.
That’s where the only other area team still playing football will be competing again this season. Courtesy of its 56-0 win over Battery Creek last week, Loris (8-3) will be heading to Dillon on Friday for the third round match-up in the Class AA, Division I playoffs. It will be a rematch of the exciting Oct. 19 game, one that Dillon won 21-14 after trailing for three-and-a-half quarters.
The winner of that game will then play the winner of Friday’s Timberland-Edisto meeting. Timberland is the overall No. 1 seed, meaning it holds home-field advantage through the Lower State championship.
That’s something the Wolves are not accustomed to. A year ago, Timberland made an improbable run that included three straight road victories over higher-seeded teams and the neutral-site win over Woodruff (now in Class AAA) to win the Class AA, Division I state championship.
Runyon making commitment official
Marisa Runyon has known for some time she was dead set on playing softball at Alabama.
On Wednesday, her verbal commitment will become concrete when she signs her National Letter of Intent (LOI) with the Crimson Tide.
Runyon, a Carolina Forest senior and the defending Toast of the Coast Softball Player of the Year from The Sun News, will put her name on the dotted line and send in her LOI at a ceremony at 2 p.m. in the school’s Media Center. It is the first day of the early signing period for most NCAA sports.
It will complete the commitment she made to Alabama as a sophomore, and for Runyon, it will erase some of the doubt in her mind regarding losing her scholarship opportunity to the defending national champion via injury or a change of heart.
“I’ve always been nervous about that,” Runyon said. “I’ve had my doubts about it. Especially with basketball starting, I could get hurt. But they told me they were completely committed to me. That did relieve it.
“I feel like I am ready. And then I feel like I’m not ready. It’s like it’s coming too quick. But I’m ready to make it official.”
Runyon’s softball star rose early at Carolina Forest. She played varsity as a seventh grader, made the switch to shortstop as an eighth grader and grew into the top player in the area the last two seasons.
As a junior, Runyon was named a Class AAAA All-State selection and led the Panthers to the Lower State championship before losing in the state finals. She batted .556 with 40 RBI and 30 runs, hit 15 doubles, two triples and five home runs.
By that point, though, she had already committed to the Tide.
“I knew it once I stepped on that campus that’s where I wanted to be,” said Runyon, who took an unofficial visit there as a sophomore.
Soon, she’ll be in Tuscaloosa fighting for playing time, but not before she finishes up what is a promising senior season in not only in softball but on the hardwood. Runyon is closing in on 1,000 career points for the Panthers’ basketball team.
Come spring, she’s got her mind set on finishing what Carolina Forest fell just short of last spring. The team will be playing for first-year coach Meagen Johnson following the departure of former coach Sarah Minchew.
“I want to win it all,” she said. “We only lost a couple [players]. We have the potential. That’s the big thing – I really want to win a state championship.”
Pair of Tigers to sign
Much like Runyon, a pair of Conway Tigers will be securing their top-level baseball commitments Wednesday.
Senior shortstop Jordan Gore will sign his LOI with South Carolina, while catcher G.K. Young will ink with Coastal Carolina. Young originally declared his intentions to attend CCU as a sophomore; Gore went with South Carolina the summer between his sophomore and junior seasons.
Last year, the two Toast of the Coast honorees each did their part in backing up their high-profile commitments.
Young batted .485 with eight home runs, four doubles and 30 RBI while racking up 18 walks and striking out only four times. He was named to the Class AAAA All-State team.
Gore led the team in batting average (.488). He also had 14 RBI, eight doubles and a triple. Like Young, he had an impressive tendency to avoid strikeouts. Gore had just four all season.
The two will sign at a ceremony at 10:30 a.m. at the school’s athletics offices.
Sand and Hoops Holiday Hoops tourney
The Socastee girls basketball team will again play host to its second-annual Lady Braves Sand & Hoops Invitational.
After fielding a four-team event in 2011, coach Ginger Ford has expanded the tournament to eight teams this season. The games will be played Nov. 19-21 at the high school.
This year’s tournament will include area teams Socastee, Carolina Forest, St. James, Myrtle Beach, Georgetown and Waccamaw, as well as visiting squads Cheraw and Mullins. Cheraw won the inaugural tournament title last year.
The games will count in each of the team’s official season records.
Admission for this year’s games are $5, and concessions will be available.
St. James’ Sloan selected for ODP team
St. James freshman Conor Sloan has been selected for the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Boys Thanksgiving Interregional in Casa Grande, Ariz.
Sloan was the lone player from South Carolina chosen to play in the ’98 age group, and he is one of 72 players nationally. The competition is the next stage for Sloan, who earlier this year played a high-profile tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico and then at the Olympic Development trials at the University of Alabama.
The upcoming tournament – comprised of four regions and players slated to graduate high school between 2016-2018 – will take place Nov. 24-26. Players will compete in front of the U.S. National Team and collegiate coaches.
Sloan, part of the next wave of area soccer players, also plays for the ’96 Coast FA club team, as well as the South Carolina United FC squad. The latter finished fifth nationally at the National Premiere Leagues Champions Cup in Chicago in July.
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