With winter sports winding up, activities return back outdoors to mark the beginning of spring.
Practice for spring sports has begun, and the start of a new season is drawing ever nearer for as many as 10 different sports (counting lacrosse at several area schools).
Here are a few story lines to look at as the 2017 spring sports campaign gets underway.
Aynor, St. James preparing for everyone’s best shot
Nothing jazzes up an ordinary chain-link fence like the addition of a championship banner, at least in the opinion of a baseball coach.
A reflection of the blood, sweat and tears exerted in an effort to accomplish a team goal, the item is one of the most cherished by area skippers — that is next to memories cherished, team photos and, if lucky, a championship ring.
Only two area squads will debut new banners as a new baseball season begins.
Aynor earned the school’s first baseball title last year, defeating Strom Thurmond in the Class 2A championship series.
While unable to complete its quest to the mountaintop, St. James wasn’t far off itself. The Sharks claimed the 2016 Lower State 3A title, before falling to eventual state champion Belton-Honea Path.
Sure, as both squads enter the 2017 baseball campaign, some names are the same … while familiar ones have given way to new blood. All in all, both Aynor’s Chad Sarvis and Robbie Centracchio of St. James will emphasize that these are two totally different teams from a year ago.
Such won’t matter, though. Both ranked in their respective classifications, two of the area’s top baseball squads will begin with a target firmly on their backs.
St. James will start the new season as the No. 4 team in Class 4A, while Aynor begins as the No. 5 club in Class 3A. The Blue Jackets’ Region VI-3A foe, Waccamaw, is ranked just ahead of them at No. 4.
Green Sea Floyds also finds itself ranked in the state Baseball Coaches Association poll, coming in at No. 8 in Class A.
How will new pitch-count rules affect games?
Rather than waiting for something catastrophic to occur, the S.C. High School League (SCHSL) opted to be proactive in helping protect and preserve the arms of young pitchers.
Pitchers at the varsity level will be subject to a 110-pitch count limit per game for the upcoming season. Suggested by the S.C. Baseball Coaches Association, the measure was approved last week by the state High School League’s Executive Committee.
Last summer, the National Federation of State High School Associations announced individual states would be required to regulate how many pitches a player can throw in a game. Previously, each state was responsible for its regulatory measures in regard to pitch count.
Through last season, pitchers were not allowed to throw more than 10 innings in a 72-hour span.
Pitchers who reach 90-110 pitches for a game must be given five calendar days of rest before pitching again. If a pitcher hits the 110-pitch limit during an at-bat, he will be allowed to finish that batter before being taken out.
Other limits and mandatory rest periods include 31-45 pitches (one day), 46-60 pitches (two days) 61-75 pitches (three days) and 76-90 (four days).
Should a pitcher go to the mound on consecutive days, the cumulative number of pitches will determine how many days of rest are necessary.
Worley looks to establish himself at Carolina Forest
No doubt, Jack Jolly’s name will forever be tied to Carolina Forest baseball.
For almost 20 years, he helped guide it from infancy to status as a Lower State baseball powerhouse.
But with the longtime Panthers skipper now in the same role at Dorman, the task lies with new head man Joey Worley.
Worley last year coached at West Johnston High School in Benson, N.C. During his final season with the Wildcats, he led them to a Greater Neuse River 4A title and a trip to the playoffs.
The new Carolina Forest head man takes on a squad that claimed a region title during the 2016 season, and fell a win short of a Lower State title.
Golden, Waccamaw seek glorious end
Hope no one expected the Waccamaw golf team to suddenly fade into the night.
Following a record-setting performance last year at True Blue Plantation en route to a state title, a new season begins with high hopes in Pawleys Island for the Warriors.
Such optimism starts with the team’s No. 1 player, Patrick Golden. A College of Charleston signee, he was a catalyst in Waccamaw’s push toward a championship, averaging under par on his 18-hole rounds a season ago.
At the state tournament, his 13-under-131 also set a state record.
That is now a piece of the past, however as the Warriors look forward to the possibility of successfully defending their state championship.
In addition to Golden, two more return from last year’s state title-winning squad, including junior Jackson Cole and senior Trey Salley.
Area soccer squads look to get over the hump
Stringing together solid seasons has not been the issue for Grand Strand soccer squads.
The ability to bring home the top prize, however, has proven to be quite the sticking point.
Myrtle Beach’s boys soccer team came close a season ago, but a late goal by Chapin allowed it to leave with a championship.
This year’s group of Seahawks will open the 2017 campaign ranked third in Class 4A. Two other boys squads were also recognized, Socastee and Waccamaw ranked 10th in Class 5A and Class 3A, respectively.
The Myrtle beach girls begin the season ranked No. 5 in Class 4A, with Region VI foe St. James not far behind at No. 9. Waccmaw’s girls soccer team is No. 7 in Class 3A.
River Bluff received the top nod among boys squads in Class 5A, while Chapin and Bishop England did the same in Class 4A and Class 3A, respectively. St. Joseph’s starts the season No. 1 among teams in Class A-2A.
Among teams in the girls Class 5A ranks, J.L. Mann is No. 1 in Class 5A, with Chapin taking the top spot in Class 4A. Bishop England and Academic Magnet were also voted No. 1 in their respective classifications.
Waccamaw girls track team looks to repeat
After winning a state championship last spring, the Waccamaw girls track and field team will look to again experience “that winning feeling.”
Junior Briley Arnold is back to help continue the Warriors winning tradition, along with senior Mary Butler DeSpain, junior Jamisa Lewis, along with freshmen Tyaisja Edwards and Samantha Kelley.
Other individual state champions returning this season are Waccamaw’s Jackson Junkins (200- and 400-meter race), Carvers Bay’s Norman Goss (discus) and Melissa Jefferson (100 meters). The Bears’ girls 400-meter relay team will also look to add another title to its collection.