Danny Morgan began noticing in January the improvement in his Hilton Head Christian Academy baseball team.
The Eagles missed the playoffs in Morgan's first season as head coach, going 4-15 in 2011 and winning one game in SCISAA Region 3-AAA. But after most of his players returned, Morgan noticed balls sticking in gloves and accurate throws in the infield.
What was thought a weakness before the season became a strength. The Eagles' defense helped them to an 11-7 record and No. 4 seed in the SCISAA Class 3-A playoffs.
Hilton Head Christian will host a doubleheader with Augusta Christian today in the best-of three format. A third game, if necessary, will be played Tuesday at Augusta Christian.
"Last year we struggled making routine plays," said Morgan, whose team averaged a little more than an error per game during the regular season. "We're not the team that's going to make the spectacular play, but now I can say we're a team that's going to make almost every routine play possible."
Thomas Heyward Academy also opens at home today, starting the Class 2-A playoffs by hosting Byrnes Schools as the No. 3 seed. The Rebels clinched their region title this past week and now aim higher.
"We got what we wanted," Rebels coach Nic Shuford said. "We set out to win the region and go to the playoffs. And we did that. ... The next goal is to win the state championship."
Shuford said Rebels starter Ryan Day, who has pitched in the No. 1 spot, would probably not be available today after throwing this past Thursday. He said Day would be ready for a third game at Byrnes Schools, if needed.
Morgan will lean on junior Lincoln Fuller, the only Eagles pitcher with much playoff experience. As a freshman, Fuller pitched in the third game of the 2010 state championship series, which the Eagles lost.
But the fault wasn't Fuller's, said Morgan, an assistant on that Eagles squad. Hilton Head Christian made too many mistakes in the field, he said.
And now Fuller is back for another run with a surprising defensive unit behind him. He was 1-1 during the regular season, with a 2.75 ERA, 19 strikeouts and six walks.
After Fuller, Morgan said he felt the Eagles boasted the most pitching depth in their region.
"I think that's what's going to really separate us in a three-game series," Morgan said. "When you get to that 18th or 19th inning, and they bring a guy in that they might not have confidence in, I still have a guy I have confidence in."
Shuford said Rebels pitchers have allowed more walks in recent games than he would like, but that the team's bats were coming around. The Rebels are batting .287 as a group. Day leads the team with a .481 average. First baseman Joe Laycock is batting .387, has driven in 14 runs and leads the team with 14 RBIs.
Thomas Heyward was eliminated in the second round in 2011.
"If we can cut down on the walks going into the playoffs, we'll have a good shot to make a little run," Shuford said.
WIN OR GO HOME
Three area public school teams will be fighting for the right to play on when players take the field today.
Hilton Head High baseball hosts North Myrtle Beach at 6 p.m. Bluffton softball hosts the winner of North Myrtle Beach and Cane Bay at 6 p.m. to try and advance to the District VII final and a rematch with Georgetown. And Hilton Head High softball travels to Berkeley to try and keep its season alive in District VIII.
The Seahawks baseball team is trying to earn a rematch with St. James, this time in the District VIII final. Hilton Head High defeated North Myrtle Beach 10-4 to open the Class 3-A playoffs before falling to St. James on Friday.