BROOKLET — Southeast Bulloch softball coach Aimee Civalier is preparing her team for the program's sixth trip to the GHSA Elite Eight, hoping to change the script on previous outcomes in Columbus.
“We had no idea what we were getting into back then,” Civalier said. “We all had a deer in the headlights look, myself included.”
SEB has never made it out of the loser’s bracket in Columbus, and in the past has even struggled to be competitive. Run rule after run rule, Civalier’s ready to change the course of the past with this team that’s fresh off a region championship and back-to-back extra inning victories in the sweet 16.
“They had to battle through a lot of adversity to battle through those games,” Civalier said. “I definitely think it helps us confidence wise to have played those games last week.”
Mostly benefitted by a weak region schedule, SEB ran through their regular season going 17-8 and an unprecedented 14-0 in Region 3-AAA. “Running through” though may be a kind way to describe just how badly SEB was beating teams in the Savannah area. SEB hailed an astronomical run differential of +200 in region play, only giving up one run in 14 region games to Islands.
However, any of the players or even Civalier herself knew they were playing against less stellar competition. Competition so less stellar many of the pitchers of these schools could barely get the ball to home plate, resulting in 10 run-rule wins over region opponents for SEB.
Perhaps it was seeing consistently lesser competition that affected SEB’s non-region play, because their numbers dropped significantly from there. Out of region, SEB’s record was just 3-8 and had a run differential of -33. Civalier admitted she intentionally scheduled tougher non-region teams like Pierce County and Appling County to get her girls used to the better teams they’d see in the playoffs.
But with their lack of regular season success against these non-region teams, the players didn’t let it affect their approach when they faced Union County in the second round of the playoffs.
“I wouldn’t say it got in our heads,” said senior Emma Britt. “But it’s never changed how we play. They’re all ballgames at the end of the day.”
As previously mentioned, SEB would go on to sweep Union County 9-8 and 6-3 in extra inning games. No one rose as a star in those games more than pitcher Madison Fields, who tossed a collective 17 innings between both games and carried the Yellow Jackets on her shoulders as she has done all season.
Fields pitched 106 and a third innings in the regular season, with an ERA of 1.18, 0.55 WHIP and a 2.84 strikeout to walk ratio. In the playoffs, she’s pitched 23 innings in four games, with a 2.74 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and a 5.3 strikeout to walk ratio. She’s been consistently great through 2016 and will need to continue to be in the elite eight for SEB to taste an ounce of success.
“I keep telling myself not to stress,” Fields said. “This is what we’ve been preparing for all season.”
On offense, SEB’s carried by a bevy of experienced players who’ve had great seasons at the dish. Shortstop Blair Chapman and centerfielder Britt both hit over .400 in the regular season and had OPS’ over a 1.000. Kam Gillis, Kailyn McDuffie, Brylie Ritchie and Mallory Hardy all hit over .300, with Ritchie scoring a +1.000 OPS and Hardy, McDuffie and Gillis hitting OPS over .900.
In the playoffs, Britt has been especially good in her senior year going 7-18 (.389) with four RBI and scored six runs. But perhaps even more impressive has been the freshman McDuffie, who’s gone 8-15 (.533) with six runs scored and four RBI. Both will be counted on to keep producing in the elite eight.
“Hannah played very well for us this summer, but I didn’t see her having this kind of impact so quickly,” Civalier said.
For SEB, their run for a ring begins today in the preliminary round at 4:00 against Morgan County, the No. 2 seed from region eight who won their regular season title but were the runner up in their region tournament against East Jackson — who’ll be playing Crisp County at 2:00 p.m. in the same side of the bracket.
Morgan County finished 9-1 in a strong region eight, who had three of their four playoff teams make it to at least the second round. With a run differential of +57 (168-111) and +20 (37-17) in the playoffs — Morgan County will be a tough out in round one.
Not to mention, Morgan County defeated Pierce County in three games to make it to the elite eight — a team that swept SEB in the regular season.
“I thought we played really well with Peirce,” Fields said. “They beat Morgan County twice too. So I feel like we’ll be fine.”
If SEB beats Morgan today, they get to rest easy at their hotel tonight. However, if they lose they will fall immediately to the losers bracket to play the lesser of East Jackson and Crisp County tomorrow at 1:00. After that, it would be a brutal run through the loser’s bracket to try and get back to championship Saturday.
It all goes down at the Columbus Softball Complex in Columbus. For more information regarding the tournament, visit ghsa.net/softball.