SYLVANIA — After enduring a regular season with plenty of ups and downs, the Screven County Gamecocks are on the verge of a region title.
The Gamecocks (13-11) swept past Westside, Augusta in the region semifinals and take on Harlem (22-7) beginning today in a best-of-three series for the Region 3-AA crown.
"We had our sets of goals coming into the season," said Screven coach Billy Pollock. "The first was to qualify for the state playoffs, and we’ve done that. Now, we have our sights set on winning the region. It’s a tough matchup, but we believe that we can do it."
Making it to the region playoffs assured the Gamecocks of one of Region 3-AA’s four spots in the state playoffs. The series win over Westside guaranteed Screven of one of the top two seeds out of the region and, more importantly, home field advantage in the first round of the state tournament.
Reaching these heights didn’t seem nearly as likely early in the season. Fielding a team with some raw talent, but not much experience, the Gamecocks took their lumps and started the season just 5-9. That marked the lowest point of the season for Screven, with the final loss of that string coming in a 10-6 defeat at the hands of Harlem on Sept. 6 — the only meeting between the teams this season.
"We played a very tough schedule early on," said Pollock. "Whether we have a lot of returning starters or not, we like to challenge ourselves. We took some losses early, but we’ve continued to improve."
That loss to the Bulldogs ended up being the only setback for Screven in region play.
Since that defeat, the Gamecocks have gone 8-2, including three consecutive wins in region play — all of which were necessary to grab the No. 2 seed in the region tournament.
Harlem figured to be the favorite in the region entering the season and has not disappointed. The Bulldogs cruised to a perfect 8-0 mark and won by four or more runs in all but one region contest.
Harlem was able to take out the Gamecocks in their own backyard the first time around, but Pollock knows that his squad is capable of returning the favor.
"There’s no questioning that (Harlem) has a good team," said Pollock. "But we felt like we gave them a little too much help. We might not have made many physical errors, but we had some mental miscues that hurt us."
Screven will need to get good all-around efforts to top the Bulldogs.
Gone are the former Gamecock squads with nearly untouchable pitching and explosive batting orders. Still, there is plenty of ability —both in the field and at the plate — to get the job done. Dawn Stewart will get the nod on the mound while players like Jancy Durrence and Rebekah Woods at the top of the Gamecocks’ lineup will be tasked with setting the table and creating offense.
"Our goal is to try to score a run each inning," said Pollock. "We don’t really have that big, eight-run inning this season. We just want our pitching and defense to keep us in the game, and we’ll find a way from there."
The second game of the series will take place immediately following the first. If a third game is necessary, Harlem will again host the Gamecocks on Thursday at 5 p.m.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.