While the Bulloch Academy Gators continue their region basketball tournament, area public school teams begin the GHSA state playoffs this Friday. The Statesboro girls and boys play a doubleheader Friday, while the Southeast Bulloch Lady Jackets head to Monroe in Albany.
For the Statesboro Lady Devils it is a unique first round scenario as the first seeded 22-5 Blue Devils come into the week ranked eighth in the state. The Blue Devils opponent is Jones County, who is the fourth seed out of Region-4 but are 22-5, and are ranked number six in the state.
“I was just talking to Coach Hill about how crazy this is,” said Statesboro coach Jeff Seier. “You can throw the state rankings out the window when the tournament begins, but they are a good team. Most of the teams are pretty good if they made it to the state, but there’s not much debate how good Jones County has been all season.”
The Greyhounds actually had a 22-3 record before the region tournament began last week. Jones County was upset in the semifinals by fourth seeded Woodland 48-40, and then fell in the consolation game 48-45 to Union Grove.
The Blue Devils and Greyhounds actually met earlier this season. Jones County is one of only four teams to beat Statesboro this year, as they knocked off the Blue Devils 49-48 December 28th at Jones County’s Holiday tournament.
“I’d like to think we are a much different team than the one they saw back in December,” Said Seier. “I also like our chances a lot more on our home floor than at their place at a Christmas tournament. I feel like we go in with some momentum after beating a team like Wayne County, who was ranked third in the state.”
The Statesboro girls enter the state with some momentum, while the Blue Devil boys are trying to recover from a collapse in the final seconds that led to a 49-46 loss to Wayne County in the region championship.
“The first couple days after the loss we were pretty down,” said Statesboro coach Lee Hill. “I feel like we have started to put it behind us, and I like the way we are coming along.”
The Blue Devils had reeled off 20 straight victories before being upset in the region championship. Coach Hill feels the team learned some pretty important things after the loss.
“We learned that we can’t just rely on one person,” Hill said. “Zarion scored 23 points, but we didn’t have anyone else score in double figures. We have to have more players step up, and we have to be able to be more calm and not panic at the end of a close game.”
The Blue Devils actually got a pretty good draw considering they are the number two seed. Jones County was 18-9 and the third seed for most of the season in a top heavy Region-4, but lost in the consolation game to 14-14 Woodland.
“They may not have a great record, but they are a solid team,” said Hill. “Dutchtown and Eagles Landing are two of the best teams in the state, and they both play in that region. They have some really good guards, and a 6-8 kid in the paint. They remind me a lot of Wayne County, and New Hampstead.”
The Statesboro girls begin Friday night’s doubleheader at 6:00, with the boys playing around 7:30.
Southeast Bulloch girl’s head coach Meredith Belcher was just trying to get her bearings, and improve her younger girls in her first year. The building process was a little quicker than she thought though, as the Yellow Jackets finished 7-7 in the region and earned the fourth seed in the state tournament.
“I knew there was a chance at advancing to the state with the talent we had,” Belcher said. “The thing is we had so many young kids, and people that hadn’t played together, it seems highly unlikely.”
The Yellow Jackets had a variety of lineups throughout the season, as well as injuries and even the unknown of wondering whether or not one of their leading scorers would be with them for the whole season.
“Our leading scorer returning was Jayden Smith,” Belcher said. “There was a question of whether or not she had enough taken enough hours at school in order to play this year. When she got that taken care of, I knew she was committed, and it really helped.”
Another boost the Jackets have had has come from the freshman class. The Jackets leading scorer this year has been freshman Madison Taylor, while fellow freshman Ansleigh Littles has scored in double figures in three of the Jackets last four games.
“Our freshman class has been huge for us,” said Belcher. “I have looked on the court at times this year, and I have seen four fresmen out there. That gives me a lot of hope for the future of this program as well.”
Friday the youthful Jackets will get a taste of the state playoffs as they hit the road for Albany and a matchup with the 14-9 Golden Tornadoes of Monroe.
“I’ve watched some videos of them and they look pretty good,” Belcher said. “We play in a pretty good region, so I don’t feel like our kids will be intimidated.”