PEMBROKE — Two years ago, Bryan County softball coach Al Butler knew he had something brewing when a young group of sophomores fought their way into the Elite Eight of the Class-A state playoffs.
Last season, the Lady Redskins took the next step, reaching the Final Four before being knocked out.
Now, with a roster full of veterans and two clean sweeps in the first two rounds of the playoffs already in the books, Bryan County has the highest of aspirations on its mind.
The Lady Redskins begin Class-A Elite Eight play today at noon in Columbus.
“Everyone is pretty excited,” said Butler. “The girls have been gearing up for the last few weeks and they’re ready to go.”
This season has been little more than a formality for the Lady Redskins (30-7) who have dropped just one game to Class-A competition all season.
“Our girls have been determined all season,” said Butler. “Their goal is a state championship. They’ve taken all the steps to get there so far, and now we’re just waiting to take the next one.”
Despite Bryan County’s sterling record, the next hurdle in the way is a large one, to say the least.
In their Elite Eight matchup, the Redskins are paired up with Gordon Lee – a Class-A juggernaut that is the defending state champion and that has won 69 of its last 70 games. Bryan County knows what it is up against, but relishes the opportunity to make its mark.
“For the last couple of years, we’ve talked about Gordon Lee with hushed tones,” said Butler. “They’re a very good team, and it will be a huge challenge, but I think that we’re up to it.”
The initial matchup might seem to be a bad one for the Redskins, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
After two years of coming up just short and another regular season of battling through Region 3-A, Bryan County is ready for any challenge. Butler admits that depth may favor the Lady Trojans, but that’s all the more reason to be excited for a chance to take on Gordon Lee while everyone is fresh.
“They probably have a little more talent farther down the lineup,” said Butler. “Some teams might like to face a great team later on and maybe get a quick win out of the way. The way I see it, it’s better to matchup with Gordon Lee right away and see if we can’t get them.”
Although the Redskins have relied on a solid group of seniors to get this far, one stands above the rest.
Tiffany Howard has been a one-woman wrecking crew all season. In addition to being Bryan County’s ace pitcher, she has also set Class-A state records for hits (75) and steals (64) in a season.
“Tiffany is one of the best that I’ve ever coached,” said Butler. “As far as I’m concerned, she’s one of the best in the state.”
All personal honors aside, Butler thinks that Howard and the rest of the Redskins have a great shot this weekend.
“This group has really grown up,” said Butler. “Honestly, I tell people that I just have the best seat in the house. These girls know what has to be done and play every game with intensity. After a couple of years of coming up short, they’re determined to go all the way.”
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.