Purposely, St. James baseball coach Robbie Centracchio wanted no mention Friday night of what was taking place in Little River.
Knowing the result of his team’s matchup with Lake City and the one just north between Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach would determine the Region VII-AAA title, the focus of the Sharks’ skipper was simple – handle their business, and let the chips fall as they may.
Though a tad too close for comfort, St. James staked its claim to a league crown, holding on to defeat the Panthers 2-1 at Sharks Field.
Following an infield single by Lake City’s Bill Hanna, leadoff man Keenan Graham rounded third in his pursuit of the game’s tying run. However, the throw would beat him to home plate, allowing catcher Hunter Spencer to apply the tag for the game’s final out.
With the win combined moments later with a Myrtle Beach loss, the Sharks were able to celebrate a region title.
“It feels great, we have a young team with a good group of seniors mixed in,” Centracchio said. “We kind of ran of the table the first half of the region and got into coast mode, and got challenged by some good teams. But I’m just so excited to see our guys battle; this was a hard-fought playoff game.”
Coming in with little at stake, Lake City gave St. James all it could handle … and then some.
Every game you don’t have your A-game in the field, on the mound. It’s just a battle, a fight and the team that wants it more and makes the big plays when it counts is going to get it.
St. James baseball coach Robbie Centracchio
On seven occasions, the Panthers had runners in scoring position. However, only one of them would score.
Sharks pitcher Grayson Stoneking had a bit to do with that. Wiggling out of jams courtesy of an overpowering fast ball, he struck out 11 Panthers in the game.
Such consistency was necessary on a night in which a solid St. James lineup was unable to get anything going at the plate.
“It definitely feels amazing (to pick up the win), especially because we had a loss to Myrtle Beach when I was pitching,” Stoneking said. “… I like to throw my curveball, but (Lake City) was hitting the curveball and playing every thing, so the fast balls were getting them out and we kept calling for them.”
Lake City’s Graham was equal to the task, going the distance while yielding two hits and a pair of runs – each of which came in the first inning. In fact, only one St. James batter earned his way aboard after the opening frame.
“(Lake City) just puts pressure on you, that’s their game,” Centracchio said. “… Every game you don’t have your A-game in the field, on the mound. It’s just a battle, a fight and the team that wants it more and makes the big plays when it counts is going to get it.”
“It’s the first one we’ve had like that in a couple weeks, so it’s good to get it like that.”
▪ W: Grayson Stoneking L: Keenan Graham Top hitters: LC: Bill Hanna 2-for-4, R; Nate Bright 1-for-3; Chris Burnett 2-for-3. STJ: Liam Bloom 1-for-3, RBI, R; Parker Rabon 1-for-3, RBI
▪ Records: St. James 17-7, 8-2 Region VII-AAA.