The second round of the state softball playoffs is something brand new for the Statesboro Blue Devils (17-9), but something the Southeast Bulloch Yellow Jackets (19-6) have come to expect.
Since their old Region 3 was split into separate regions two years ago, the Jackets have dominated, winning the region title, earning the No. 1 seed, and then defeating the fourth seed in the opening round of the playoffs.
The success of the Yellow Jacket program goes back much farther than that though, as they have advanced to the second round of the state tournament in seven of the last 12 years, and have advanced to the Elite Eight six times.
To do that this year could be quite an accomplishment. First, the Jackets have to deal with 8th ranked Cook County. Second, they must overcome an injury to one of their key players.
The Yellow Jackets have been without the services of Kailyn McDuffie — one of their top bats — for most of the season, and Tuesday, Southeast Bulloch head coach Aimee Civalier found out that Mackenzie Glisson — the Yellow Jackets' top pitcher — may miss the rest of the postseason with a leg injury.
“Mackenzie could be doubtful,” said Civalier, “But Shylah Thames has had some great innings, and some great games for us during the season, and we have a couple other girls who haven’t pitched this year but should be able to go if needed.”
With the pitching situation still up in the air, Civalier knows the importance of hitting and playing defense to help offset that issue.
“When you get to this point you have to have good defense, you’ve got to score runs, we are going to do the best we can as a team.” said Civalier.
Cook County comes in with a record of 15-7, but three of those losses came to 25-1 Worth County, and three other losses came to Class AAAAAAA Lowndes and Colquitt County.
"Cook is a great program,” said Civalier, “They knocked us out of the tournament last year, and return seven of their nine starters from a year ago.”
This is the time of year Civalier hopes the tough non-region schedule the Yellow Jackets played will help them with the kind of competition they will see.
“We have had some tough non-region competition, and played well against them,” said Civalier, “And that should help our confidence playing a team like Cook."
The Yellow Jackets and Hornets will play their best of three series beginning Wednesday with game one at 3 p.m. and game two at 5p.m. The third game, if necessary, will be played Thursday at 2p.m.
For the Statesboro Blue Devils, the second round of the state tournament is uncharted territory in the fast-pitch era. Statesboro will be riding some momentum from a sweep of Bainbridge in the first round into their second round match-up with Locust Grove.
We are super excited that we are still playing softball,” said Statesboro High head coach Jim Simmons, “The feeling that I get is the girls are still very focused and still having fun.”
Advancing to round two for the first time could give the Blue Devil players the feeling of a mission accomplished, but according to Simmons, they are hungry for more.
“We talked about the ‘gravy goals’, something that you get to choose if you have it,” said Simmons, “but I feel they want to continue and they are excited.”
Statesboro is currently ranked 10th in the state while Locust Grove comes in ranked 2nd. The Wildcats sport a 25-4 record and were 15-1 in region play. Simmons is aware of the Wildcats abilities and knows this will be a challenge Wednesday.
“They come from a region much like ours that is tough top to bottom,” said Simmons, “They play hard and are athletic.”
This one could come down to pitching. Statesboro sophomore Brinson Anne Rogers has been dominant on the mound, striking out 29 batters in the Blue Devils two game sweep of Bainbridge, and could throw in back to back games again, according to Simmons. As for the Wildcats they offer a little change of pace on the mound.
“They have two pitchers that approach things a little differently,” said Simmons, “One pitcher doesn’t throw too hard but has lots of movement on the ball, the other is a freshman who can run it up there pretty good.”
Home sweet home could play a factor Wednesday as well. Both Statesboro and Locust Grove are undefeated at home. The Blue Devils own a 13-0 record at Mill Creek, while the Wildcats were 9-0 at home. Statesboro was also 2-7 on the road, something coach Simmons feels is not indicative of how the Blue Devils have played away from home.
“I’ve really thought about this one,” said Simmons, “ I don’t think there is anything different about our approach and we have had some pretty competitive games with the likes of South Effingham and Wayne County, and hopefully we can change that trend on Wednesday.
Statesboro and Locust Grove are scheduled to play game one of their best of three series Wednesday at 4 p.m. with game two slated for a 6 p.m. start. If a third game is necessary, it will be played Thursday at 3 p.m.