For a moment, the Region 3-AA championship was within Southeast Bulloch’s grasp. Instead, a third-place finish was in store.
Going into Tuesday’s game with Bleckley County at Mill Creek Regional Park, the task was simple for the Yellow Jackets. A loss meant third place in the region, a shutout win would have won them a region title, and a win while allowing a goal meant a second-place finish.
SEB came out firing and scored early, but a first-half own-goal on the Jackets ended their region title hopes. Another Bleckley strike late in the game gave the Royals a 2-1 win and the Jackets a road trip for the first round of the state playoffs next week.
“It’s a tough one to lose,” SEB coach Bob Massee said. “But I’m still proud of our team. We played a heck of a game, but we were facing another very good team in Bleckley.”
The Jackets looked like the better team early on as they jumped on the offensive. The majority of the early minutes were spent deep in the Royals’ half of the field before the Jackets struck in the sixth minute of play.
Doug Flott chased down a loose ball in the right corner of the Bleckley 18-yard box and gave a centering pass to Sean Healy. Healy ripped a shot that was travelling just left of the goal, but James Jones redirected it into the net for a 1-0 lead.
Needing to hang on the rest of the way, SEB couldn’t quite stave off Bleckley. In the 17th minute, the Royals pushed the ball deep into the SEB zone. The Jackets twice failed to clear the ball and a third attempt deflected off of a Jacket defender, bouncing past Riley Dinkins for an own-goal that ended the Jackets’ region title hopes.
“That was brutal,” Massee said. “It’s something we work on every day. We just want to roll off and clear out of the way but, unfortunately, we didn’t do that and scored on ourselves. Still, I thought that we showed a lot of fight not giving up once that goal happened.”
Still playing for a No. 2 state seed and home field advantage, the Jackets continued to press, but never quite matched their early offensive efforts.
The teams remained in a deadlock for more than 50 minutes of game time, but it was Bleckley County that broke through as Marty Souza sneaked a perfectly placed header past the reach of Dinkins and just under the crossbar for the decisive goal.
Gunning for a region championship of their own, the Royals retreated to defense and kept SEB from finding any quality shots in the final 16 minutes to close out the win.
With the loss, the Jackets take the No. 3 seed out of Region 3-AA and will travel to Morgan County (No. 2 seed, Region 4-AA) on May 3. Though a bit disappointed by Tuesday’s outcome, SEB — which notched a road win in last year’s playoffs — is still optimistic.
“I think that we’re going to be a pretty dang good 3-seed.” Massee said. “We know that we can win and win on the road. It’s all about playing to our potential.”
Lady Jackets 1, Lady Royals 0
With the No. 2 seed already wrapped up, the Southeast Bulloch girls had little to play for Tuesday, but they still wanted to end the regular season on a high note.
It took a lot of work, but the Lady Yellow Jackets got a season-closing win, notching a late goal in a 1-0 victory over Bleckley County.
“I’m not sure that we played our best game in the first half,” SEB coach Kristen Barnhill said. “We fixed a lot of things in the second half and played much better. Thankfully, that was enough for the win.”
Southeast Bulloch always seemed poised to strike, but couldn’t pull ahead for the longest time. Pressing for the win in the waning minutes, the Jackets caught a break when a hand ball was called in the Bleckley box and a penalty kick was awarded, but Merekate Schlierf had her shot blocked.
A few minutes later, Netanya Suarez knifed into the right side of the box, but missed high on a short shot.
Finally, with just over five minutes to play, another SEB shot was deflected and found its way to the left foot of Ana Olsen, who launched the ball into the top of the net for the game’s only goal.