Another solid year for Bulloch Academy athletics has a chance to get even better this weekend.
With four Final Four appearances in other sports already in the books, the baseball Gators have a chance to notch another Final Four spot for BA as they begin their three-game series with Tiftarea tonight in the Elite Eight of the GISA playoffs.
The Gators (11-8) are riding a wave of momentum after a comeback performance in the opening round of the state tournament.
A loss to Christian Heritage put Bulloch on the brink of elimination last Friday, but the Gators bounced back to sweep a doubleheader Saturday afternoon, sending the Lions home and avenging their season-ending Elite Eight loss to Christian Heritage last season.
“Losing that first game is never a good way to start,” said Bulloch coach Daryl Evans. “I was proud of our guys for bouncing back. We knew we could take the last two games, and we executed very well to do it.”
While Bulloch is still alive in the title hunt, it has a tough test standing in the way of a trip to the Final Four.
The Gators now travel to Chula for their matchup with No. 1 seed – and defending state champion – Tiftarea.
The Panthers (12-5) have been hot all season in rolling to the Region 3-AA title. The beginning of postseason play did nothing to slow down the Panthers as they pounded Westminster Christian by scores of 17-1 and 13-1 to advance to their matchup with Bulloch.
“We know that they’re a very good team,” said Evans. “They won a title last year and have some guys coming back from that team. They’re really solid in all aspects of the game. They play good baseball and aren’t going to hurt themselves.”
For the Gators, the key to advancing likely will come down to their trio of quality pitchers. Senior Taylor Burke and juniors Walker Blitch and Win Lee have been an outstanding combination throughout the year, and it was a pair of great performances by Burke and Lee in last Saturday’s wins – each allowed just two runs – that helped Bulloch to advance.
“(Burke, Blitch and Lee) have been carrying us for three years now,” said Evans. “Taylor is a senior and is on his way to (Georgia) Southern, so he’s kind of our main guy, but we don’t mind giving the ball to any of them. We don’t have a one, two or three guy so much as we have a 1A, 1B and 1C.”
Offensively, Bulloch will look to pick up right where it left off in the last round.
The Gators smashed two home runs and crossed the plate 14 times in their last two games, and swinging the bats well will be a point of emphasis in this series.
“(Tiftarea) has a couple of good lefties to throw at us,” said Evans. “They aren’t overpowering, but they’re accurate and effective. We just have to be patient and make sure we have good at-bats.”
As the postseason progresses, every pitch becomes more important, and nerves can come into play.
For the veteran Gators, their experience could make all the difference.
“This is a team that has been to the playoffs for three straight years,” said Evans. “And it’s not just baseball. The guys on this team have been in big games and Final Fours in football and basketball over the years. They know what to expect and they know how to step it up when the time comes.”
Game one will be played this evening at 5 p.m. Saturday, the second game will begin at 11 a.m., and – if necessary – Game three will begin 30 minutes after.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.