High School Sports

Bluffton softball team hopes 2 losses won't hurt playoff mind-set

The Bluffton softball team was rolling.

The Bobcats steamrolled through opponents en route to a 16-0 start this season, claiming yet another Region 7-AAA championship in the process. At one point, coach Bill Ball's crew reeled off three straight region victories by a combined score of 48-0.

Then Thomas Heyward Academy came calling.

The Rebels notched back-to-back wins over Bluffton, both coming at the hands of senior Ashlie Layman. The Thomas Heyward standout pitched a complete game shutout while adding a solo homer in a 1-0 win before delivering a walk-off, three-run double four days later.

How the Bobcats respond to their first two losses of the season may go a long way in determining the outcome of tonight's Class 3-A playoff opener against North Myrtle Beach.

"It can work significantly for you or against you," Ball said. "It's all going to be dependent on how my kids react to it."

Bluffton enters the postseason as the top seed in District VII and will take on the 7-12 Chiefs at 6 p.m. tonight. The Bobcats are joined by Georgetown and Cane Bay in the district, with the second round set for Saturday.

Bluffton has faced Cane Bay twice this season, sweeping the season series by a combined score of 15-3. So forgive Ball if he isn't overly concerned with his team's sudden losing streak.

"When we're playing our best game, there's no one we can't compete with. That's the bottom line," he said. "I'm not talking about 3-A or 4-A. I'm talking about high school softball in the state of South Carolina. I have complete confidence."

North Myrtle Beach finished fourth in Region 8-AAA this season with a 4-6 record and features a youthful lineup, Ball said. The Chiefs had to beat Myrtle Beach on Saturday to secure the final playoff spot from the region.

"They're no powerhouse," he said. "But they play in a tough region. They have to grind it out. It always makes you nervous. We have a little bit softer schedule than a lot of teams that are competing in the playoffs.

"I have a lot of faith in the quality of my team. But sometimes somebody can catch you with your pants down."

The Bobcats will be joined in the playoffs by rival Hilton Head Island High School. The Seahawks, who enter the postseason with a 10-6 record, will travel to St. James today for a 6 p.m. first pitch. The Sharks and Hilton Head High make up half of District VIII, joining Berkeley and Socastee. Second-round games are Saturday.

Hilton Head High coach Sarah Beachkofsky is still undecided on who the Seahawks will throw, but said they will choose between freshmen Whitney Halley and Peyton Leitner. Whomever throws for Hilton Head High will be backed by a surging offense, as the Seahawks tallied a pair of homers last Friday against Beaufort High.

"If we do that and continue with our solid defense, I think we're going to have a solid effort against St. James Thursday night," she said.