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SCHS, Pike face off in Sweet 16

    SYLVANIA — New year, same old story.
    Last week, Screven County polished off Cook during a two-game sweep of Berrien in the first round of the GHSA state softball playoffs.
    Now, the Lady Gamecocks (28-6) head to Zebulon to face Pike County for the right to head to Columbus for the Elite Eight.
    While advancing into the late stages of the state tournament has become a trend for Screven — a win over Pike will make it four trips to Columbus in the last five years — this season has been a slightly tougher road.
    The Gamecocks ran into trouble in the Region 3-AA tournament, and a loss to Dodge County forced Screven to begin its state playoff quest on the road. But Screven, full of senior leaders, played the part of battle-tested team perfectly in 5-2 and 3-1 wins over the Region 1-AA runner-up.
    “We were a little concerned at first,” said Screven coach Billy Pollock. “It’s tough playing on the road, especially when you’re a few hours away from home. I think that once we got out on the field, we were able to settle in and focus on playing good ball.”
    Despite the low scoring affairs in the first round, Pollock was encouraged by what he saw from his offense. The Screven bats fell flat in the region tournament at key moments, but bounced back against the stellar pitching staff of Cook.
    “Our team tends to do better against better pitching,” said Pollock. “That has been the case with us all year. It can be tougher to bunt and move runners — which is what we try to do — against better pitching, but we executed everything well.”
    On the defensive side, the Gamecocks are looking as solid as they have all season.
    The loss of second baseman Lovey Sheppard to injury could have been very costly, but everyone has stepped up to keep things going smoothly.
    The airtight defense keeping balls from getting through only accentuates the already daunting task of dealing with Screven ace Marla Thompson on the mound. A senior this season, Thompson knows exactly what must be done to continue to advance this late in the season.
    Pike County (20-6) enters today’s matchup on a hot streak.
    The Lady Pirates have won 17 of their last 18 and come into the matchup with Screven on an 11-game winning streak.
    Those numbers, while impressive, might not tell the whole story. Pike breezed through its region unbeaten, but the Pirates’ home in Region 1-AA is not as competitive as the Gamecocks’ region, and Screven has much more experience at this level of competition.
    “This is the first time that Pike is competing with the teams in the southern part of the state,” said Pollock. “This is also the first time they’ve made it this far in the state tournament.
    “We know that any team still in it at this point is good, but I also think that our experience can give us an edge. All of our girls have been here before. We know how to win, and we’re all focused on getting back to Columbus.”
    Today’s doubleheader begins at 4 p.m. with the second game following immediately after. If necessary, a decisive Game 3 will be played in Zebulon  Thursday at 5 p.m.

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