With winter slowly giving way to spring, it’s time for the high school basketball postseason.
Last week, Bulloch Academy got things started with the girls winning their region, the boys taking third, and both advancing to the GISA Class-AAA state tournament.
This week GHSA teams from all around the area take to the court to settle their own region tournaments.
Just over a month ago, things weren’t looking great for the Statesboro boys.
A tough non-region schedule left the Blue Devils under the .500 mark and two early Region 2-AAAA setbacks put them behind the 8-ball, but a strong finishing kick has Statesboro in good shape at the right time.
Tonight, the Devils (13-12, 7-3 Region 2-AAAA) begin their quest for a region title — or at least to extend their season into the Class-AAAA state playoffs — as they travel to Richmond Hill to take on Glynn Academy (12-11, 2-8) at 6:30 p.m. in the opening round of the Region 2-AAAA tournament.
Despite Statesboro finishing in second place in its sub-region, thus qualifying for a bye through the first round, the Devils were tied with Evans and lost the coin flip for the No. 2 seed. Now, the Devils will have to do some more work to keep their season going. The final four teams remaining in the tournament earn the right to play in the state tournament.
"It just makes things that much tougher," SHS coach Lee Hill said. "Instead of only having to win one game to get to state, now it’s two."
Hill went on to describe how getting back-to-back wins will be no small feat this season.
"This region is usually strong, but this is about as good as I’ve seen it. There are very talented teams on both sides of the region and now we’re all fighting for the same four spots."
If Statesboro pulls off the win tonight, it advances to Thursday’s competition where Ware County (No. 2 seed out of the south sub-region) awaits.
The road is a good bit easier for the Statesboro girls.
The Lady Devils (24-1, 10-0) notched a perfect regular season region record for the second consecutive season and will roll into Richmond Hill looking for their third consecutive region tournament championship.
Statesboro has steamrolled the region competition time and time again, but still has to win its first game Wednesday night against either Evans or Wayne County to get another crack at the state playoffs.
"We’re a very confident team," SHS coach Jeff Seier said. "We’ve been down this road and we know how to win in the postseason. We know how to win the games that you’ve got to win."
For Statesboro’s "Fab Five" seniors, this marks the beginning of their final playoff run. The Devils got to the first round of the 2008-09 state playoffs and reached the Elite Eight in each of the past two seasons. Now, they have one more chance to reach the top.
"Everyone is extra motivated," Seier said. "It gives them a little extra incentive knowing that it’s now or never for them."
Looking at Region 3-A, a handful of area squads hope to be playing for a title in Millen at the end of the week.
A year after rebuilding with a strong group of freshmen and sophomores, Portal is poised to win its region for the first time since its Final Four run four seasons ago.
Injuries in both the frontcourt and backcourt have plagued the Panthers all season, but they have been able to fight through the adversity to notch a 22-3 overall record and claim the top seed out of their sub-region. Portal earned a bye through today’s opening round and will take on either Treutlen or Savannah Christian Thursday at 7 p.m. in Claxton.
One of Portal’s biggest rivals, Claxton also figures to play deep into the tournament. The Tigers (16-6, 8-2) finished on top of their sub-region for the third time in as many seasons and will play either Bryan County or Emanuel County Institute in the quarterfinals Thursday at 4 p.m.
This season, Claxton will try to shake the ghosts of the last two seasons which both ended with the Tigers on the wrong end of an upset. Claxton won the region tournament in 2009-10, but was ousted in the first round of the state playoffs. Last season, the Tigers stormed into the region tournament as the top seed, but was taken down — and kept out of the state tournament — in the region quarterfinals.
Claxton gets to try to punch its ticket to the state playoffs with a home game Thursday before the tournament shifts to Jenkins County for the final two rounds.
Not to be outdone, the Claxton girls are also trying to reach the state tournament.
A year after finishing 8-14, the Lady Tigers are now 19-5 and the No. 2 seed on their side of the bracket. Senior Polly Murray continues to shine as the most dominant player in the region and will lead her team up against either Metter or Wheeler County Wednesday at 8:30 with a state playoff birth on the line.
In Region 3-AA, the fireworks have already started.
Monday night, Screven County (4-19) kept its season alive with a furious comeback victory over Southeast Bulloch.
The Gamecocks were led by Rashad Hughley and Jamelle Lanier with 19 points each in the 62-61 win. After trailing 37-21 at halftime, Screven made its charge, finally pulling ahead on Tevin Snead’s put-back with just 12 seconds to play.
Screven lives to fight another day as it faces Bleckley County in Eastman tonight at 8:30 p.m. With another win, the Gamecocks would still have to upset Swainsboro Wednesday to punch a ticket to the state playoffs.
On the girls side of the bracket, Southeast Bulloch wants to prove that it can hang with the top of the region.
The Lady Yellow Jackets (10-13) ripped off six straight wins in the final half of the season to earn a No. 3 seed, but still need two wins to get to the state playoffs.
SEB squares off against Bleckley County today at 4 p.m. in Eastman.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.