The Hilton Head Island High baseball team's hunt for a region championship is back on.
The S.C. High School League's executive committee breathed new life into the Seahawks program Friday, voting by a 9-5 margin to drastically reduce the penalties the program incurred last month for using an ineligible player. Hilton Head High, which was originally required to forfeit seven games and pay a $2,100 fine, must now forfeit just one game and submit a $300 penalty.
"For the sake of the student athletes, obviously I feel relieved because the seven forfeitures would have definitely hurt their opportunities for postseason play," principal Amanda O'Nan said. "Lessening that to one, I feel positive about that piece.
"Clearly, paying a $2,100 fine compared to a $300 fine, it's much easier to pay. ... Of course, it's always frustrating when you have a High School League violation."
The Seahawks must forfeit a 6-1 road victory over Beaufort High on March 11, the only game the SCHSL deemed Hilton Head High to have a competitive advantage in with the ineligible player in question. That athlete, pitcher Ryan Cherry, picked up his first victory with the Seahawks that night after allowing one run in four innings of work.
Cherry's eligibility first came into question in late March after the league discovered he pitched over the summer for the American Legion Post 185 team, the Lowcountry Heat. The SCHSL determined that Seahawks coach Chris Wells was a coach for that club, contradicting rules that a player must sit out a year should he transfer to the school of a coach for which he played for on an outside team. Cherry transferred from Bluffton to Hilton Head High before the 2012-13 academic year.
Wells resigned his post with the Seahawks after 15 years two weeks ago in an attempt to lessen the penalties incurred by the SCHSL. The move appears to have paid off, as Singleton granted Cherry a hardship waiver to play on April 2 before the executive committee reduced the penalties against the school two weeks later.
"They felt that the player in question had a competitive advantage for that particular game (against) Beaufort High School," O'Nan said. "They didn't feel so much, as they defined competitive advantage, in the other games.
" ... Of course, they looked at the entire picture. The fact that the player in question was on the (Heat) roster but not physically at the games or during practices or actually at hardly any of the games during the season. They looked at the big piece and had quite a bit of discussion. That's what they decided."
Hilton Head High's 5-1 mark in Region 8-AAA got through the ruling unscathed as well. The Seahawks would have faced an uphill battle to claim a postseason bid had SCHSL commissioner Jerome Singleton's original ruling been upheld, as interim coach Blair Carson and Co. would have been saddled with a 1-5 mark in region play.
Now, the 10-4 Seahawks can continue a push for their first region championship since 2010.
"I hope today's ruling brings some sort of closure to this episode," Wells said in a statement. "The players and coaching staff can finally get back to just playing the game that they love and continue their pursuit of the region title and get ready for postseason play. I know the team has five big games left in the regular season and I fully expect them to close it out playing good Seahawk baseball."
Carson will continue to lead the team through the remainder of the season, O'Nan reiterated. Once the postseason concludes, she and athletics director Joe Monmonier will get together to begin the search for the next head coach.
"We're going to have postseason play wrap up before we begin to screen those applications," she said. "But the position has been advertised as an open and vacant position for people to apply on our district website for some time."
For now, those involved plan to focus solely on Hilton Head High's upcoming playoff push. A postseason run that appeared very much in doubt over the last several weeks.