One vivid detail from last season's state championship game still lingers in the mind of Chris MacMurray.
"We got outworked," he said, shaking his head at the mere thought of it. "We made it our mission that it was never going to happen again. Not for 10 seconds, not for one second. That's what I remember."
The Hilton Head Island High School boys soccer team vowed to outwork its opponents from that point forward. And so far the Seahawks have lived up to their word, with the latest test coming in a 3-1 slugfest over second-ranked Socastee on Tuesday night to advance to Saturday's Class 3-A state championship in Columbia.
"In my 30-plus years of experience, it's always the team that's working harder that wins in the playoffs," Hilton Head High coach Wayne Quinlan said. "It's almost never the team that plays prettier. It's always the team that's working hard, that's getting there for the 50-50 balls and picking up second balls.
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"We have been sold on that concept -- everybody giving that last inch -- for the last five or six weeks of the season. And I'll tell you what, when those guys come off, they're tired now."
The Seahawks aren't the most talented bunch, and rarely can they just strap on their cleats and walk away with a blowout victory. But they've managed to be the harder-working team for most of this postseason run, which remains alive after a second consecutive Lower State championship.
A frustrating first half over the weekend against Brookland-Cayce remains the only point of late when the Seahawks were truly outworked, players said.
MacMurray, Alvaro Concha and Chip Tremarelli provided the heavy lifting for Hilton Head High this time, as the trio scored all the goals the Seahawks would need against a tall and talented Socastee squad.
It was MacMurray who got things started in the 31st minute, as he broke free on Steven Rendon's corner after a teammate set a pick to allow an easy header.
"I don't know how many times we've run that play in practice," MacMurray said. "Maybe a thousand."
"It was surprising to me," Quinlan added. "Maybe they were napping a little bit. Because that's how they score, off of throw-ins and little flips."
Rendon appeared to push the lead to 2-0 just after halftime, when his shot from 25 yards out sailed into the top right corner of the net. But the goal was wiped out after the referee said the ball didn't go in, one of three negated scores on the evening.
The others came at the misfortune of Socastee, which had a pair of tying scores expunged after a throw-in failed to touch a player before another was quashed after players pushed Seahawks goalkeeper Conner Goulet.
"When it comes down to it, we got through this season, and the playoffs is what really matters," Goulet said. "We've definitely put in all the effort we have and everybody has showed up and bought into the idea that we need to play as a team."
No second-guessing was necessary for the other Seahawks goals. After Will Caswell tied it for the Braves in the 57th, Concha followed just one minute later when the sophomore connected on a throw-in from Eliot McPherson.
Tremarelli then put the Braves' rally on ice in the 75th after connecting on a deflection off Socastee keeper Ryan Sutton.
"We can play pretty when we want, but I think the best thing about our team is we adapt," MacMurray said. "If we've got to get tight and kick the (crud) out of people, we will. And coach does a great job of that, telling us what we've got to do."
More of Quinlan's scouting likely will be required for Saturday's state championship, when the Seahawks attempt to slow down top-ranked Eastside. The Eagles (21-1-1) punched their ticket to the season finale with a 3-0 win over Wren in the Upper State championship.
No Hilton Head High player seemed overly worried, though. After all, the Seahawks have won three straight playoff games against a trio of clubs that finished inside the top 10 of Class 3-A after compiling a combined 59-11 record.
"That was just good, hard work," MacMurray said. "In the locker room we talked about at this time in the playoffs, it's not who plays the prettiest soccer. It's about who is the hardest working. I mean, I'm out of breath right now. We worked our butts off for 80 minutes and we brought it."
Hilton Head High 3, Socastee 1
Goals -- Socastee: Will Caswell (57th); Hilton Head High -- Chris MacMurray (31st), Alvaro Concha (58th), Chip Tremarelli (75th)