Sharks sink their teeth into inside track for region title

The first batter of the game not only reached base against St. James. Moments later, after a wild pitch, sacrifice bunt and fly ball, South Florence’s Korique Rainey scored.

He was the last Bruin to do so, and he was also the last one to reach third base.

St. James not only came from behind in another region game on Monday; the Sharks put it on their closest competition with a 9-1 victory that essentially gives them the inside track toward the Region 6-5A title.

Considering this is the team’s first season in the state’ largest classification, and that’s saying something.

“We practiced hard in the offseason to do everything we could to get here,” senior third baseman Caleb Bondi said. “We’re here. It feels the same. The competition’s a little better. But we’re stepping up to the plate when we have to.”

St. James, now 6-2 in the region along with South Florence, swept the regular-season series against the Bruins. And this one looked much different than most of the Sharks’ previous region victories.

After Rainey scored in the first, St. James’ defense went on lock. It didn’t commit an error behind sophomore ace and Coastal Carolina verbal commitment Ethan Salak. Even though he plunked four opposing batters with off-speed stuff gone awry, South got next to nothing out of him.

Meanwhile, the Sharks’ offense went off in its final three innings at the plate. They scored three runs each in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.

Bondi had three hits and scored three runs. Tanner Johnstone was 2-for-4 with three RBI and two runs. And Andrew Leo was two-for-four with a triple, RBI and run.

All told, St. James piled up 13 hits.

“You see those numbers up on the scoreboard [in the late innings]; it’s exciting to see them fight for it,” head coach Robbie Centracchio said. “It’s different how teams match up. They’ve got good arms and they’ve done some damage in the region. It was kind of nice to get those extra swings on the board.”

That’s because, again, this wasn’t the norm for St. James.

The Sharks had to come from behind in five of their other region victories, and none of them were decided by more than three runs.

Centracchio has said all along that the move to Class 5A in itself wasn’t going to be preventative in the program winning its seventh region championship since 2010. He repeated that on Monday.

“We haven’t look at it that way. We circled the teams in our region that we knew we [had to beat] to win the region,” Centracchio said. “Nothing really changes. These are opponents we’re used to playing anyway. We’ve played them every year. That’s just our goal.”

In moving one step closer to that goal Monday, St. James also clinched playoff berth, more than likely earned a top-two finish in the region and opened up a clear path toward the region championship. It will play Socastee at home on Thursday before heading to Carolina Forest on Tuesday.

Win both of those, and Centracchio’s team will have plenty of time to prepare for a potential homefield advantage throughout the district playoffs, much like it did in many of its seasons in Class 3A and 4A.

“People didn’t expect us to be where we are right now,” Salak said. “We knew what we needed to do, and every single person on this team did it. We deserve to be here right now.”

Photo by Janet Morgan/myhorrynews

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