The Whale Branch baseball team has been here once before.
For the second straight season, the Warriors kicked off the postseason with a victory to move ahead into the winner's bracket. But things went sour at this point last year, as Dean Hawkins' crew bowed out with consecutive losses.
But this is a different year and a different team. This is about progression.
"The boys are real, real excited," Hawkins said. "We're real proud of where we've gotten to, considering where we started last year, with this being our second year."
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Whale Branch (11-9) jump-started its Class 1-A playoff run Thursday night with a 12-4 triumph over St. John's in the District VII opener. The Warriors take on Lamar at 5 p.m. today. Right-hander Danny Makowski will take the mound for Whale Branch.
"We're playing about as well as we can with where we're at," Hawkins said. "We were able to save our best pitcher for (today). We feel strongly about our chances going in."
The Warriors are more prepared for the postseason spotlight this season, Hawkins said. A more seasoned lineup and a tougher nonconference slate have put Whale Branch in a better position to succeed.
"We're in a much better scenario than we were last year, even though we did win our first-round game last year," Hawkins said. "We're just a much better all-around team."
Whale Branch isn't the only area team sitting in the catbird seat. The Warriors are joined by Bluffton softball, which pasted North Myrtle Beach 14-3 in a five-inning affair to start the Class 3-A District VII playoffs. The Bobcats (17-2), who entered the postseason on a two-game skid, got a triple and three RBIs from Kim Kerby and a grand slam from Whitney Morrell.
"It was like we were unstoppable," coach Bill Ball said. "Very happy with the way they reacted. The kids have just been so confident and so focused the last few days.
"I really think that there might have been some significant benefit in taking those losses and getting that monkey off our back of being undefeated."
They'll try to advance to next Wednesday's championship round at 2 p.m. today against Georgetown.
"We have a great shot of beating anybody across the field from us," Ball said.
Beaufort High baseball, meanwhile, will fight for its postseason life today after the Eagles dropped a 7-6, eight-inning contest to South Aiken to start the Class 4-A playoffs Thursday night. Scott Mullen's team was one out from advancing to the winner's bracket before Robert Dezac's two-out RBI single evened things up. The Thoroughbreds then got the go-ahead RBI from Cory Bryant an inning later.
The Eagles will host Dutch Fork today in the hopes of staying alive in the District VI bracket.
"We're going to get the (jitters) all out and come out Saturday looking good," second baseman Mark Jones said.
Bluffton baseball also will look to stave off elimination today against North Myrtle Beach. The Bobcats dropped a 7-5 decision to St. James -- last year's Class 3-A state champions -- on Thursday and will look to stay alive against the Chiefs, who dropped a 10-4 game to Hilton Head High.
Hilton Head High, which lost Friday night at St. James, will host the winner of the Bluffton-North Myrtle Beach game on Monday.
Hilton Head High's softball team also played Friday, keeping its postseason alive with an eight-inning win at Socastee. The Seahawks will continue district play on Monday at either St. James or Berkeley.