High School Sports

Area baseball, softball teams hit ground running with pivotal early season matchups

Carolina Forest head baseball coach Jack Jolly is preparing his team for quite the pivotal stretch, the team facing a difficult region schedule in addition to playing stout non-region opponents.
Carolina Forest head baseball coach Jack Jolly is preparing his team for quite the pivotal stretch, the team facing a difficult region schedule in addition to playing stout non-region opponents. The Sun News

Most of the local baseball and softball coaches are looking at their schedules for the next two-week period and having one of two reactions.

Some believe their squads are ready for the test ahead; others are less than confident heading into a stretch that will include 40 percent of their region games and likely some non-region ones in a nine-day span. The pros and cons of spring scheduling are likely going to be seen en masse.

“I don’t mind the four region games in the two week span. What I don’t like is having to mix non-region games in there because it’s so tight,” Carolina Forest baseball coach Jack Jolly said. “On the other hand, it forces us to pitch other people and develop our staff.”

The Panthers will play four of its 10 region games in the next nine days, beginning with Tuesday’s contest at West Florence. There’s also a road game against Sumter on Friday before playing South Florence at home and Socastee on the road next Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

Carolina Forest will also sprinkle in non-region games against St. James (Thursday) and St. Joseph, N.Y. (Monday).

That quick-fire scheduling is something that exists for nearly all of the area’s baseball and softball teams, a product of both Horry and Georgetown county school districts starting Spring Break on Friday, March 25. The South Carolina High School League (SCHSL) regular season schedule is only nine weeks long (including a preseason tournament).

That means there is little choice but to front-load the schedule as much as possible, even with region games, especially considering spring sports are also subject to a higher than normal number of rainouts.

“It would be impossible,” Waccamaw baseball coach Jeff Gregory said. “You try to play earlier, try not to play back-to-back. The farther you go, the better teams are going to be. I expect Dillon to be sharp fast and athletic. When we play them later in the year, I expect them to be even more so. It may help you or it could hurt you.”

In the case of the more developed teams, the next two weeks could put them in the driver’s seat. As Gregory points out, it could also derail a team’s chances at a region title before they really get going.

Last year, in every baseball and softball region involving teams from the Grand Strand, no one won a region crown with more than two losses. And no team with more than three losses finished second, the place necessary to earn a first-round playoff home game.

So despite everyone playing under the same scheduling conditions, there is little room for error – even early. The next two weeks could also develop into a proving ground.

Jolly’s Panthers, coming off a championship in the IP Classic over the weekend, will now try to show some of the same promise it did during the tournament. Carolina Forest fell to Summerville in the IP Classic opener, only to rattle off wins against Greenville, J.L. Mann and Gilbert en route to the title.

Continuing those winning ways this week and next will ultimately mean even more.

“We’re by no means a finished a product. But we’re heading in the right direction,” Jolly said. “The biggest thing from the tournament was how we would rebound after a loss. They answered that. They could get that behind them and move on.”

FIVE TO WATCH

Spring sports are entering the second or third week of their seasons, and there is already significant meaning behind many of the contests. Here are five games that may be worth the look this week.

▪ North Myrtle Beach at St. James softball, 6 p.m., Tuesday – Along with Georgetown, these two are consistent region contenders of late. This year may be no different.

▪ Green Sea-Floyds at Hannah-Pamplico softball, 5:30 p.m., Thursday – Although not a region game, this may be a good indicator of how far the Trojans can go this year.

▪ Waccamaw at Aynor girls soccer, 6 p.m., Thursday – Aynor may be the team best equipped to prevent the Warriors’ 10th consecutive region championship.

▪ Georgetown at St. James softball, 6 p.m. Friday – Repeat the earlier statement about the expected trio of Region VII-AAA powers.

▪ Loris at Aynor baseball, 6:30 p.m., Friday – The Lions and Blue Jackets seem to bring out the best in each other.

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