SYLVANIA -- For Screven County, the time is now.
Riding four consecutive Elite Eight appearances in the Georgia High School Association state playoffs and loaded with a roster of returning seniors, the Lady Gamecocks want to make this the year they finally get to the next level.
“We’re all excited to get the new season underway,” said Screven coach Billy Pollock. “We scheduled a heavy summer with 16 games in three weeks. It’s gotten our returning girls ready for the regular season, and it gave some of our freshmen a chance to see how we do things at the varsity level.”
This year, Screven looks to pick up right where it left off during its torrid 26-1 start last season. Eight starters return as seniors to a team that is seemingly loaded in every aspect of the game.
All-around speed contributes to the ultra-aggressive baserunning of the Gamecock offense, and power in the middle of the order from Lauren Thomas, Tiffanie Burns and Rochelle Shuman should make for plenty of offensive production.
“For the last four years we’ve had, pretty much, the same lineup,” said Pollock. “This is the most successful senior class in the history of Screven County High School. We’re definitely looking for more big things from them this year.”
Pollock also stresses sound defense, and another year of experience figures only to add to last year’s stellar performance in the field.
And then there is the pitching staff.
Senior Marla Thompson returns as one of the premier pitchers in the state to continue her domination of opposing batters. Thompson went almost an entire month before allowing her first earned run in 2009 and will be the go-to arm every time Screven needs her.
Also in the mix is sophomore Dawn Stewart, who was undefeated last year and will have a bigger role this season.
“Marla is obviously a great pitcher and key to our plans,” said Pollock. “She’s one of four seniors this year that are going to go on and play college ball, and we’ll definitely depend on her. However, we also want to get some more opportunities for Dawn. She did great in her freshman year and we want to give her a chance to pitch against some tougher teams.”
In anticipation of another potential playoff run, Screven will test itself early with a challenging schedule. In addition to the competition from rival Southeast Bulloch in Region 3-AA, the Gamecocks have a full slate of tournaments to start the season.
“We’ll be in the Tattnall tournament, the Statesboro tournament, and the Greenbriar tournament,” said Pollock. “There will be a lot of competition there, and the Greenbriar tournament will have a lot of schools from the higher classifications. We also scheduled Jeff Davis in the regular season. They won around 25 games last year and just missed the Elite Eight, so they should give us some good games.”
For a program that has averaged 23 wins per year over the last four seasons -- including a 27-3 mark in 2009 -- the 2010 Gamecocks are intent on putting an end to their postseason struggles.
“I’ve challenged our girls to come up with their own goals,” said Pollock. “It takes a lot for teams in the southern part of the state to get some respect, but I think that we’ve been earning it over the last few years. We haven’t, as a staff, given them any formal goals, but they know I won’t be satisfied with anything less than a state championship appearance.”
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.