High School Sports

Legendary NMB softball coach Graves set to call it a career

North Myrtle Beach’s Emmalee Ballard dives back to the base as Manning’s Laura Beth Thigpen bobbles the catch in last week’s game. The Chiefs were informed before the game that their legendary coach James Graves would retire at season’s end.
North Myrtle Beach’s Emmalee Ballard dives back to the base as Manning’s Laura Beth Thigpen bobbles the catch in last week’s game. The Chiefs were informed before the game that their legendary coach James Graves would retire at season’s end. For the Sun News

James Graves has won everywhere he’s been.

Softball jobs at five schools in three states led to three state titles, region/district championships and more than 500 wins. He’ll close out his career as a head coach as soon as North Myrtle Beach’s season comes to a close.

Graves said that he informed his team of his decision prior to the start of the state playoffs last week.

“I just wanted them to know,” Graves said. “I didn’t want to spring it on them after the season was over, ‘By the way, I’m retiring.’ I feel like they deserved to know. Hopefully it will give the administration time to really find somebody who can continue to build this program and do good things for this community. That’s what it’s all about.

“My wife and I have been talking about it. With our children and grandchildren, we haven’t been able to spend as much time with them as I would like. I don’t get to see my family as much as I need to.”

The 68-year-old Graves came to North Myrtle Beach prior to the 2013 season. After missing the playoffs in his first year, he won the Region VII-AAA title in 2014 and then led the Chiefs to second-place finishes each of the last two seasons.

On March 21 of last year, he won his 500th career game and had pushed that total to 520 heading into Monday’s second-round playoff game at Hanahan.

I didn’t want to spring it on them after the season was over, ‘By the way, I’m retiring.’ I feel like they deserved to know. Hopefully it will give the administration time to really find somebody who can continue to build this program and do good things for this community. That’s what it’s all about.

North Myrtle Beach softball coach James Graves on the timing of his announcement to retire

The overall numbers indicate just how much he’s done over 24 years in the sport.

In 1980 and 1981, he led Woodmont to the Class AAA title game both seasons. He left softball for an administrative position after that year but returned in 1993 when Class AAAA Hillcrest needed a coach. At the Greenville-area school, he built a program that others emulated. The Rams racked up a state-record 96 consecutive victories between 2002-2004 – a record that still stands and is 29 better than the next closest team – won three straight state championships and played for another in 1999.

He then departed for Houston, Texas, coaching at Lamar High in 2007. In his only season at that school, the team won the district title.

Graves returned to the Carolinas and coached at Purnell Swett in Pembroke, N.C., from 2009-2012, winning another conference title before heading to Little River.

Between a growing family and the daily drive from Pawleys Island, though, Graves has decided to call it quits after this season. He said he hopes to help out another local team in the future, but without the demands of a head coaching role.

“I’m gonna try to enjoy some time fishing and spend some time with my wife and my grandkids and try not to have such a hectic schedule,” he said.

The ensuing search for his replacement comes on the heels of North Myrtle Beach hiring two other coaches. The Chiefs administration replaced wrestling’s Amos Collins with Carl Dukes and boys basketball coach Cameron Koehler with former Socastee and Coastal Carolina University standout Alvin Green.

AYNOR’S DIAMOND SQUADS DOUBLE UP

Wednesday could turn into a pretty solid party at Aynor.

The school is one of just two in Class AA to have both its softball and baseball teams earn home games in the district championships. And with the format of the state playoffs, that means both are now heavily favored to earn trips to the Lower State tournaments.

After sweeping its way through the Region VIII-AA schedule, the Blue Jackets baseball team defeated Lee Central and then Edisto in a pair of games that Chad Sarvis’ team ended in run-ruled, five-inning affairs. Tony Mills’ softball team had a slightly tougher path.

Despite losing the region tie-breaker that determined the No. 1 seed, the softball squads team beat Timberland at home and then went on the road to edge out Barnwell 5-1.

The baseball and softball teams will find out their opponents for the district finals as early as Monday evening. Regardless, they’ll have to lose twice on Wednesday in order to not advance.

The only other Class AA school to have both of its teams host district finals was Johnsonville.

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