The Statesboro baseball team has endured its ups and downs throughout the 2012 season, but no one should dismiss them until the final out.
The Blue Devils came within a few outs of elimination twice last week, but they prevailed in each case to retain their hopes of reaching the Class-AAAA state playoffs. The last hurdle standing in their way is Ware County as the teams begin a best-of-three playoff today in Waycross.
Just a week ago, this matchup was hard to picture for Statesboro. After a rough start in region play, the Devils were forced to catch fire late in the season. A win by at least three runs at Effingham would have clinched a spot in the region playoffs, but Statesboro instead had to come from behind just to edge out a 1-run win.
Then, in the final region game of the season last Friday, Statesboro had to defeat Evans to stay alive. The Devils dug themselves a 6-0 hole over the first five innings, but roared back to take an 8-6 win and stay alive once more.
"Our kids really impressed me," SHS coach Jim Simmons said. "We got down a couple of times in games that we needed, but we just kept fighting. That says a lot about this team."
With the wins, Statesboro earned the final playoff spot in the northern sub-region of Region 2-AAAA. Their reward — a series with southern sub-region champion Ware County to move on to the state playoffs.
"Obviously, Ware is a very strong team," Simmons said. "They have a tradition of playing very good baseball and they had to beat out a lot of very good teams to get that top spot."
The Devils will make the long trek to Waycross with an upset on their minds.
While the Gators can tout their gaudy 9-1 region record, Statesboro has proven throughout the season that it can match up to any opponent. Armed with solid pitching and a deep lineup, the Devils have been able to stay in every game, waiting for a chance to turn the tables in their favor.
"Despite the records, this has been a very even region," Simmons said. "There aren’t any easy games. There haven’t been any blowouts and everyone is capable of winning on any night."
The Devils are hoping that Simmons’ words hold true as they look for their first trip to the state playoffs since the 2009 campaign.
Despite a short drought from the state tournament, there is no lack of experience on the Devils’ part. Seven SHS seniors were freshmen during the last state run, and the region parity has put the rest of the roster in situations with playoff-caliber pressure on a routine basis.
"We’ve been in close games and big spots throughout the last couple of seasons," Simmons said. "Almost every game is being decided by only a few runs, and whatever team can come out on top is the one that can move on at the end of the year. Our kids have been in those pressure situations, so I don’t think that the region playoffs will be much different."
What is different is the schedule.
Today’s slate calls for a doubleheader with Ware County — something the Devils have done just once all season. Combine that with a road trip halfway across the state, a best-of-three series format, and the do-or-die pressure of the playoffs, and teams can start to crack.
Still, the Statesboro skipper is confident in his team.
"We’ll leave a little earlier, but things will stay about the same," Simmons said. "This is what we’ve been working for since last season. We’ve got our schedule set to make things about the same as any other road game and our guys have their schoolwork and everything else taken care of.
"All that’s left is for us to go out there and keep playing good baseball."
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.