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Scrappy SHS faces hot Crisp County
021813 SHS BASEBALL 02
Statesboro High's Diquan Brunson finds home plate easily as Richmond Hill catcher Justin Henley waits on the throw during the bottom of the first inning in this Monday, Feb. 18, file photo.

    The Statesboro baseball team is getting pretty comfortable with living life on the edge.
    As the stakes grow higher, the Blue Devils just seem to dig in and get better.
    That trend will be tested once more as Statesboro makes its first trip to the second round of the Class AAAA playoffs since 2009. The Devils will take on Crisp County in a best-of-three series beginning with a doubleheader this afternoon in Cordele. If necessary, a decisive third game will be played Thursday, also in Cordele.
    Making it this far is impressive enough in its own right, but is even more astounding given the route that Statesboro has taken to get to this point.
    The Devils (17-12) dropped the first game of their Region 3-AAAA first round playoff against Cross Creek, bringing them within a loss of missing out on the state playoffs altogether.
    Statesboro won the next two games to take the series, but again found itself in a hole after losing to West Laurens in the state playoffs last week. Once again, the Devils rattle off two straight wins to keep the season alive.
    “I think that there’s a high level of confidence with our teams and coaches right now,” SHS coach Jim Simmons said. “The theme before our last game against (West Laurens) was belonging. Our guys feel like we belong here and we’ve certainly earned the right to keep playing.”
    The Devils — a No. 3 seed in the state tournament — have already notched one upset win, but must now take on a region champion.
    Crisp County stormed its way to a 22-4 record in the regular season and easily dispatched Spalding in its first round playoff matchup.
    The Cougars come into the series on a 16-game winning streak and their only losses on the season have come against a school from Alabama and three Class AAAAAA squads.
    A relatively weak group of Region 1-AAAA rivals may have helped Crisp County post such an impressive record. Aside from the Cougars, no other team from their region advanced through the first round as those three schools posted a cumulative record of 1-6.
    But there is no denying the dominance of Crisp’s pitching staff, which boasts a trio of dominant arms.
    “Their ace can run it up into the mid-90s and can go as high as 97,” Simmons said. “Then they’ve got a couple of other guys that throw in the high-80s and 90s. There’s no questioning that they have a very talented pitching staff.”
    Statesboro will counter with a lineup that — while lacking raw power — has been able to consistently manufacture runs and come up with timely hits.
    After 5.2 innings of shutout pitching in Monday’s clincher over West Laurens, Colin Chance is doubtful to pitch for the Devils. But Statesboro has good depth on the mound as Tyler Brown, Jordan Finch, Blakely Brown and others are all solid options.
    “There’s nothing more that we have to do to be successful,” Simmons said. “We’ve shown that we can pitch and hit and play good defense. If that’s the type of game that we can take to Crisp County, we have every reason to be confident.”

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