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Lady Yellow Jackets fighting to reclaim Region 3-AA

    BROOKLET — Another year brings a renewal of great expectations.
    Just two seasons removed from its run of back-to-back-to-back appearances in the GHSA state playoffs, Southeast Bulloch is determined to return to its successful postseason ways.
    “We’re excited to be back out here preparing for another season,” said SEB coach Aimee Civalier. “We’re going to be very young, but we have a lot of talent and enthusiasm, so we’re definitely looking to build from last year.”
    Last year was an uphill battle for the Yellow Jackets.
    Without the services of four-time All-region pitcher Megan Barnwell, SEB was forced to scramble for help on the mound. Ashley Clifton stepped in from her normal spot at third base and performed admirably, becoming one of the better pitchers in Region 3-AA by the season’s end.
    A tough schedule led to a 2-6 start, but the Jackets bounced back to win seven of their final 10 games – finishing just one win shy of a fifth-consecutive trip to the state playoffs.
    This year, 2009 seniors Clifton, Lauren Crosby and Ciera Weaver are gone, and the Jackets will again have to find new girls to step up.
    “We have three key girls that are gone from last season,” said Civalier. “Now is the time that we need to figure out who can replace them. There are some rising juniors and seniors, but we also have some younger girls that are looking very good.”
    Providing the veteran leadership this season will be a trio of returning starters.
    Senior Ansley Rushing is a spark plug at the top of the batting order and provides excellent defense up the middle.
    Accounting for RBIs and power will be senior Hannah Denmark and sophomore Effie Manahan. Taking her power to the defensive side, Manahan may also be called on to pitch some big innings for SEB, as she progressed on the mound throughout last season.
    If the Jackets can stay near the top of the region, a title may very well come down to a race between SEB and rival Screven County. The Jackets and Gamecocks have shared the region crown for the past four years and there is no reason to think that one of the two could again be celebrating this fall.
    “Screven is definitely the team to beat,” said Civalier. “They’re the defending champs and they return almost everybody from last season. They have a very good program over there. That’s what we’re striving to be and what we believe that we can be.”
    One secret towards building a perennial power could be held by the youngest Jackets on the field. Screven has built its recent run on an everyday lineup that has hardly changed in three years. With a large and talented group of freshmen entering the program this season, Civalier sees the opportunity to create a similar core.
    “This group that we have coming in reminds me of the class that Screven had three years ago,” said Civalier. “I’m excited that they’ll all be able to learn and grow together in the same class. Obviously, our biggest concern is for this season, but our freshmen are talented and pushing for playing time right now, so we might have a pretty young team out there this season.”

    Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.