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Rebels ready for state softball tournament

Thomas Heyward is used to SCISA softball playoff success, and coach Bob Layman expects his team to compete for a title when the Class AA tournament begins Friday in Sumter.

The opening-round tournament is Friday and Saturday at Sumter’s Palmetto and Patriot parks. The best-of-three championship series is May 15-17.

THA’s seed was yet to be determined before our deadline, but Layman thinks there are six teams in Class AA who are legitimate contenders for the state crown, and the Rebels, who have been a state finalist each year since 2014, are certainly one of them.

“I think we are ready to play at that level,” Layman said.

Layman’s confidence was boosted after watching the Rebels respond to his challenge before the team’s April 20 game against Colleton Prep, a state-title contender. Layman told THA that a loss would knock the Rebels out of the playoffs and the team had to win.

Sure, it was a bit of a fib (THA’s playoff status was basically assured), but Layman wanted to see how the team would react to the challenge.

The Rebels answered with possibly their best game of the season, winning 5-0.

“We had to find out what what we were made of,” Layman said. “That was a pivotal point in our season.”

Layman also adjusted the lineup for that game, moving Ivy Bryan to leadoff; Alayna DeLong to second; and Cheyenne Strong to third. Hannah Cannon remained at cleanup.

Layman said it was “time to shake things up a little bit.”

The team scored 13 and 12 runs in its next two games, respectively.

Layman also said he’s encouraged by THA’s defense, especially the outfield play of Bayli Belger (LF), DeLong (CF) and Mikayla Blanton (RF).

“The ball just doesn’t drop anymore,” he said.

The offense is led by Bryan (.529 BA, 40 RBI, .808 SLG) the best shortstop in the state, Layman said, and Cannon (.447 BA, 25 RBI, .684 SLG).

Combined they have 65 RBI and have scored 53 runs.

The Rebels (15-11) beat Northwood 7-0 last Friday, led by Strong’s 14-strikeout, one-hitter. DeLong had three hits and Bryan had a HR and three RBI.

THA, which last won a state crown in 2011, will compete for the crown against some of the state’s top teams, including Marlboro Academy, Willamsburg, the two-time defending champion, Pee Dee, Colleton Prep and Carolina Academy.

“I put as much pressure on them as I possibly could the week before we played Colleton Prep. I did it on purpose,” Layman said. “I wanted to see how they would react and we really did well. The way we played against Colleton Prep, we could beat any other team.”

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