A baseball game might last for hours, but Hilton Head Prep coach Chris Wells knows it’s often decided on just a handful of minuscule moments. And in the playoffs, every single one is magnified. After 2021’s perfect regular season led to a tough defeat in the SCISA 3A semifinals, Wells and a new-look Dolphins squad are prepared for another shot at the crown this May.
“We’re proud of defending the region,” Wells said. “We certainly got pushed and challenged a little bit more, but the guys persevered. It’s always fun to play when you push more chips into the middle of the table. The emotions are higher, the pressure is higher, the juices definitely get flowing come playoff time.”
This year’s team has been far from perfect in its record or in its play, but the Dolphins battled and emerged out of a difficult region with a multitude of new faces. Gone from this year’s squad is the do-it-all and determined Luke Foley alongside reliable shortstop Harrison Green. It’s not always easy to replace a group of dynamic fixtures of last year’s memorable squad, but several young players have made the challenging step up to the varsity level to join forces with some talented returnees.
After a promising freshman year, Steele Burd jumped to the crucial third slot in the batting order and became a force at the dish, posting a team-leading .431 batting average with a sky-high on-base percentage of .615 thanks to his 16 walks. He doubles as the team’s workhorse ace on the mound, pitching to a sensational 1.65 ERA through 34 innings with a 55:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Versatile veteran Phoenix Betancourt has done a bit of everything for the Dolphins by carrying his load at the plate while serving as a rock defensively at first base. But the breakout star of the year may have been junior outfielder and pitching sensation Peyton Bullock. A defensive standout who can provide strong innings on the mound and consistently get on base at the plate, Bullock has risen to any challenge he’s faced so far and should be a defining factor in the Dolphins’ postseason.
There hasn’t been a family at Hilton Head Prep that’s made a bigger impact athletically than the Campbell siblings this school year, and freshman Connor Campbell is no exception to the bunch. Just like soccer and basketball stars Katie and Courtney, Connor has brought fresh energy to the Dolphins and will be invaluable with his abilities on the mound.
Playoff baseball is all about getting the most out of each pitcher, and Wells has developed a confident staff that has taken the time to refine its skills over the course of the season. He emphasized the importance of building stamina and pitching efficiently in each at-bat. Through pumping in first-pitch strikes and pitching to contact in order to induce ground balls, Wells has built his staff for the mentality it needs to succeed in the postseason.
Baseball can be a fluctuant game at times, but Hilton Head Prep’s offense has the speed on the basepaths and the patience at the plate to thrive in the postseason setting. With an impressive 5.9 walks per game, the Dolphins know how to make opposing pitchers work for outs and get on base to set up bunting and stealing opportunities which are gold when the games matter the most. Wells expects his group to buckle down in situational hitting and swing at the right pitches to stack valuable runs up on the board.
The SCISA 3A playoffs will be a gauntlet that will test the mettle of this Dolphin group. Hilton Head Prep opens up on Tuesday with a familiar foe in Laurence Manning, a team that will be gunning for revenge after losing a pair of one-run contests to the Dolphins in last year’s tournament. An opening-round victory would most likely set up a matchup with top-seeded Hammond School for the right to advance to the final of the Upper double-elimination bracket. With a first-game defeat forcing the Dolphins to win five consecutive contests to reach the state championship series, it’s a must for Hilton Head Prep to come out strong on Tuesday against the Swampcats.
Wells has already amassed over 300 career victories, and the veteran head coach still has the hunger for more. After moving to the Lowcountry 25 years ago, Wells has created a winning culture at every stop since and has established a tight-knit family among current players and alumni. To Wells, it’s the relationships and the growth of his players on and off the field that outrank the wins and losses on it. Now a married man with a new wave of energy, Wells is ready – just like his team – to take its best shot on the SCISA stage by executing all the little things and letting the chips fall where they may.
“Three words: we are ready. Don’t worry about anything else, play the game like it’s July 4th family reunion wiffleball in the backyard. You know what to do when the situation presents itself, and just be ready to make that play.”
By Wes Kerr
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