Athlete of the Week: NMB’s Ferguson ready for playoffs

North Myrtle Beach senior pitcher/shortstop Billy Ferguson realizes his Chiefs may not be considered “the team to beat” when the Class AAA baseball playoffs open this week.

That’s fine with him. Like the Chiefs’ opponents over the past few weeks, the Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the Week prefers that they don’t see it coming.

“We might not be the biggest team out there or the strongest team, but when we play together we’re a tough team to beat,” Ferguson said. “We’re definitely getting hot at the right time.”

One month ago the Chiefs were hovering around the .500 mark and in the middle of the Region VIII-AAA pack. Nine consecutive wins later, they are cruising into Thursday’s first-round game at Hilton Head Island as a No. 3 seed.

The hot streak peaked with last week’s 5-1 victory over Musselman (WV) in the Mingo Bay Classic’s Louisville Slugger division’s championship game. The right-hander was lights-out on the mound, striking out 11 in a three-hitter and proving the Chiefs could play with anyone in the nation.

But they still had to prove they could play with anyone in their region, which they did Tuesday when they dealt Socastee its first region loss of the season. Ferguson, who is 6-3 on the mound this season, went 2-for-4 at the plate to prove himself a serious double threat that other teams must contend with.

“Billy is one of our (three) seniors and we’re definitely counting on him for leadership,” North Myrtle Beach coach Tony Boyer said. “Whether he’s pitching or playing shortstop, we’re looking for him to give our team a lift.”

That hasn’t been an issue lately, although Ferguson reads off a laundry list of teammates who have been playing together since they were 10. Seven years of rec and travel league experience are starting to pay off.

In fact, the same group was playing in a 15-year-old all-star tournament when they learned of the death of former Chiefs coach Jeff Butler. While difficult at the time, the continuity of Boyer filling the role has drawn the team closer.

“We were at a tournament when they told us,” Ferguson recalled of his late coach. “We wanted to win the tournament for him, but we were too shook up and lost two games in a row, but now we want to make him proud.”

Win or lose, Ferguson will go on to The Citadel next fall on a baseball scholarship. He is considering a career in the military if baseball doesn’t pan out, but his immediate focus is on leading his team to a state title.

“That would be my biggest dream to go out like that,” Ferguson said. “That’s something we’ve been dreaming about for a long time.”

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