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Lady Jackets look for big things in new season

    If five Elite Eight performances over the past 10 seasons counts as a power, then include Southeast Bulloch Softball as a power in the AAA classification.
    When asked how confident she was on a scale of one to 10 in her team to win Region 3-AAA, head coach Amy Civalier's response was a simple “9½”.
    “I never want to guarantee anything,” Civalier said. “But knowing our competition and our expectations, anything less than a region championship will be a disappointment.”
    SEB finished 2015 ranked No. 19 in Class AAA, but no one else in their new region came close to sniffing a winning record, let alone the top-25. Islands was the closest team to .500 with an 8-12 record in 2015, and the Lady Sharks once again appear to be the top competition the Yellow Jackets will have out of the other eight teams they’ll face in region play.
    “We’re shooting for a region championship, but Islands have been competitive,” Civalier said. “They can get better to having a program that can be competitive. Jenkins can give us some competition as well.”
    The players are aware of the situation they lie in, too. Hosting a state playoff game is the goal of SEB in 2016, and to do that they’ll have to win a region SEB is more than favored to dominate.
    “We’re chasing for rings. If we get to the state finals it’d be awesome,” said senior shortstop Blair Chapman. “I see us being on top of the region. We’re very confident we can win it this year.”
    Region 3-AAA's lack of good teams shouldn’t dilute the talent on SEB’s roster. The Yellow Jackets may boast the best pitcher in the county in senior Madison Fields, who’s started nearly every game for SEB since her sophomore year. She helped lead the Yellow Jackets to a 23-10 record in 2015 and a sub-region championship  and has greater sights for her team this year.
    “Pitching is 90 percent of the games in my opinion,” Fields said. “I expect to start every game, so it puts pressure on me to go out there and pitch well every time.”
    If you ran into Fields in the hallways of SEB, she doesn’t exude the confident persona of a starting pitcher. But she assures once she gets on the mound, her inner assassin comes out and the confidence oozes.
    “Madison makes me confident as a pitcher,” Civalier said. “She makes our defense better, which is already our strength as a team.”
    Even though SEB will be replacing key defensive positions at third base and catcher, Civalier assures she has talented freshman coming up to replace those holes. In other places, SEB will have abundance of experience at big positions like centerfield and shortstop. Chapman will move from her regular position at first base to man shortstop, and she’s ready to take on the challenge.
    “Whatever coach Civ tells me to do I’ll do it 100 percent,” Chapman said.
    Senior Emma Britt will take back her place as SEB’s rangy centerfielder and continue to hit leadoff, something she’s done since she was a freshman. She’ll set the tone for the Yellow Jackets to start off every game, a role she relishes every time she steps up to bat.
    “I love to start the rally,” Britt said. “I’m going to use that to help us win region this season.”
    SEB will use the speed they have to bunt, get on base and steal plenty of bags in 2016. The Yellow Jackets expect to score plenty of runs in that fashion, with a new wrinkle to go with it: power. Freshmen like Kaylen McDuffie will bat in the three and four holes to give SEB a pop they’ve lacked in the past.
    If there’s any concern SEB will have this season, it’s injuries. As of right now, SEB has two players down and won’t be around for the start of the season. One of them being junior Emily Barnes, who is a key cog in the infield for SEB. While both players will be back in time for region play, it is still a concern for a non-region schedule that is much tougher.
    SEB kicks off its season tonight with a double header at Beach High School, with first pitch set for 4:30 p.m.