By CHRIS STANLEY
The end of September means the end of the softball regular season, which for the first time in a long time won’t be the end of softball for all four Bulloch County teams.
This is first time in recent history Statesboro, Southeast Bulloch, Portal and Bulloch Academy could all be in the playoffs at the same time. It’s a testament to what the travel softball culture that’s recently popped up in the county has done to the talent in all four schools.
Not only are all four teams potentially going to the state playoffs in their prospective classifications, it’s very possible three teams could host state playoff games. As it goes with these year end playoff scenarios, it’s all about how the cards stack up with wins and losses.
But even if only one team from Bulloch County hosted it’s still a massive accomplishment by the county’s collective softball community to get all four schools to where they are now.
Statesboro 14-8, 3-5
Fourth in region 2-AAAAA GHSA
It’s safe to say Statesboro is the surprise of the county when it comes to softball success in 2016. Statesboro won more games this season than in their last five seasons combined and had qualified for the playoffs with four games left in the season. In short, what head coach Jim Simmons has done is nothing short of a miracle.
“There were a lot of questions about us at the beginning of the season,” Simmons said. “It’s been a day-in, day-out thrill to see our expectations grow.”
Wednesday Statesboro will start their region playoffs with the first of a three-game series with No. 1 region seed Wayne County, who is fresh off sweeping the Blue Devil’s by a combined score of 15-3. If Statesboro were to fall to Wayne again, they’d take on the loser of Ware County and South Effingham next week to finalize the seeds the teams would take for the playoffs.
Statesboro beat Ware at home 3-1 on Sept. 20, but lost to the Gators 7-2 back on August 30 and was swept by South Effingham by a combined score of 20-5. If things were to fall Statesboro’s way, the Blue Devil’s would like to see Ware next week to try and best the Gators in a three game series.
Whether Statesboro finishes the No. 3 or the No. 4 seed, they’ll most likely be matched up with the No. 1 or the No. 2 seed from region 4, which would likely be the combination of 16-4 Locust Grove, 13-10 Union Grove or 16-8 Jones County.
Southeast Bulloch 11-6, 10-0
First in region 3-AAA GHSA
Southeast Bulloch steamrolled their way through their new region in 2016, outscoring their opponents 150-1 in ten games. Those four opponents had a combined record of 19-40 —leaving it up to interpretation whether or not Southeast Bulloch was ever really challenged during region play.
They’ll be challenged for sure by 13-3 Jenkins on Wednesday in a double header that will decide the region championship — so at worst SEB should finish second in their region. Winning the region would be a huge benefit, as they’d be most likely matched up with region 1’s four-seed: 5-9 Monroe. If not, they’d be matched up with the much three-seed from the same region, 9-9 Crisp County.
Out of conference, SEB is 1-5 with a run differential of -21. So in a way the Yellow Jackets are still an unproven commodity despite being undefeated and the odds region champions. Head coach Amy Civalier says keeping focus is going to be key to finishing out the season strong.
“Our focus right now is to not coast,” Civalier said. “We have to land that number one seed so we can host first round.”
Bulloch Academy 5-10, 2-3 T-second in region 2-AAA GISA
Bulloch Academy, as young as they are, could be looking at finishing .500 in their tough region and possibly hosting a playoff game. It’s a complicated mess between Edmund Burke, Trinity Dublin and BA —but the Gator’s game today with Edmund Burke is essentially for all the marbles.
Pinewood is 6-0 in the region and has secured the No. 1 spot, but No. 2 is still up for grabs between BA and Trinity Dublin. As of right now, BA is the No. 2 seed, Trinity Dublin is the No. 3 and Edmund Burke is the No. 4. If BA wins today, they will secure the No. 2 spot and host a playoff game in head coach Kyle Chamber’s first year.
But if BA loses, that’s when things start to get messy. If BA loses to Edmund Burke tonight, it creates a three-way tie at second. Therefore, the three teams would have to three draw numbers from a hat. Whoever draws one will host a three-team knockout tournament.
Team one plays team two. The loser of that game plays team three. If team three loses that game, Team one lands the two-seed, making Team two the three-seed and Team three the four-seed. If team three wins the second game.
However, if Team three beats the loser of the first game they would then have to play the winner of the first game and beat them twice. Then, Team three would get the two-seed, followed by the initial winner of game one getting the three-seed and the loser of game two getting the four-seed. Simple enough, right?
“I’m so trying to keep this team focused for this game today,” Chambers said. “It’s senior night so hopefully we can get up for MiKay Sands, who’s been huge for us this season.”
Portal 11-5, 7-1
Second in region 3-A, 16th in class A power rankings
Portal is competing side-by-side with Statesboro for biggest surprise in the county. The Panthers started out 7-0 in region play and will more than likely finish second or third — by far the highest since head coach Travis Motes took over.
Class A uses a power ratings system that is extremely complicated and isn’t worth the time explaining in full — just know Portal has two games left in the season against Calvary Day and Montgomery County that could make or break whether or not Portal can stay in the playoff hunt.
Right now, Portal is ranked 16th in these power ratings and would have to lose both of those games to be in any danger of slipping out of the top 24 spots. Calvary Day will be a challenge but Montgomery County is a team Portal is more than capable of beating — so the threat of a slip isn’t totally realistic. This is all without mentioning that Portal still has their region tournament to play next week, where the Panthers could play another four games.
“We’ve still got a lot to play for,” Motes said. “Every game from here on out can affect where we fall or if we even make the playoffs.”
If the season ended today, Portal would be matched up with Echols County (11-4) and would be grouped in the same bracket with the No. 1 team in the state Gordon Lee (21-1). Portal will know more about their standings when the new ratings come out today.