Playoff Previews & Picks: Catch fire when it counts

It’s not how you start, but how you finish. That old sports axiom fits Myrtle Beach and second-round opponent Lower Richland to a tee when they square off Friday night in Columbia.

Both the second-seeded Seahawks (7-4) and the top-seeded Diamond Hornets (6-5) are late-season bloomers that might have been easily dismissed a month ago when they were carrying losing records. After a pair of impressive four-game winning streaks, one team is poised to reach the Lower State semifinals.

But all late-season surges are not equal. Following a brutal non-region schedule and a hard-fought 24-19 loss to No. 2-ranked rival North Myrtle Beach, the Seahawks have been a roll to the tune of a 237-47 combined score over the final month. That’s an average score of 59-12.

Lower Richland’s four-game streak isn’t quiet so staggering (139-60), and home field isn’t going to help them hide from the Jermani Green-led momentum wave the Seahawks are riding. … Myrtle Beach 38, Lower Richland 23.

* Crestwood at North Myrtle Beach: The top-seeded Chiefs (11-0) have stayed hot the entire season and have won with relative ease over opponents like second-round foe Crestwood (6-5). But first-year coach Matt Reel was unimpressed with his team’s performance in last week’s 59-36 victory over Colleton County and has challenged the Chiefs to come out and play like the No. 2-ranked team in the state. The Bulldogs better bring their A game. … North Myrtle Beach 45, Crestwood 20.

* Spring Valley at Conway: The Tigers (10-1) and Vikings (10-1) meet in a rematch of last year’s second round game, which Conway won 14-0. Expect a more offensive showdown this time, especially now that Tigers QB D’Wuan Grainger seems to have hit his stride. … Conway 31, Spring Valley 13.

* Carolina Forest at Fort Dorchester: The Panthers (6-5) made an impressive comeback last week to win their Class 5A playoff opener over Lexington, but their reward is a date with the top-ranked Patriots (11-0), who destroyed Socastee last week and has its sights set on a state title. … Fort Dorchester 34, Carolina Forest 17.

* Troy at Coastal Carolina: The Chants (1-8) showed remarkable resolve in taking Arkansas to the wire last week, but they lost starting quarterback Tyler Keane and won’t be overlooked by this Sun Belt foe. … Troy 24, CCU 20.

* Florida State at Clemson: The Tigers (8-1) have an opportunity to take out their past frustrations on their longtime rival for the ACC title, the Seminoles (3-5), while also scoring some points with the playoff pollsters. … Clemson 38, Florida State 15.

* Florida at South Carolina: The Gamecocks (6-3) make it a Palmetto State sweep over the Sunshine State by beating the Gators (3-5), who have gone off the rails recently. Will Muschamp gets a degree out of satisfaction from putting it on his old school. … South Carolina 27, Florida 13.

– Last week 7-1; overall 65-22.

Photo by Joel Beachum

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