The Southeast Bulloch boys’ soccer team is already assured of a spot in the Class-AA state playoffs next week, but with one regular season game remaining, there is still some work to do.
Currently in second place in the Region 3-AA standings, the Yellow Jackets host Bleckley County at Mill Creek Regional Park tonight at 7 p.m. Depending on the outcome, SEB will enter the state tournament as a No. 1, 2 or 3 seed.
"The main thing is that we’re where we wanted to be when the season got going," SEB coach Bob Massee said following practice Monday. "We’ve played hard throughout the season and I think we’re a much better team right now than we were at the beginning."
If they want to secure a region title, the Jackets will at least have to be better than they were when they faced Bleckley last month. On March 16, SEB made the long drive up to Cochran and was dealt a 1-0 defeat. That loss, combined with a setback at Dublin last week, puts a number of postseason possibilities in play for tonight’s game.
A loss by SEB will make the Jackets a No. 3 state seed and force them onto the road for their first playoff game. A shutout win, on the other hand, will earn the Jackets the region title and a top seed. An SEB win in which the visiting Royals score a goal will still give the Jackets a home game in their first state playoff matchup, but it would be as a No. 2 seed as the third scenario will give Dublin the region crown.
"There are a few different ways this can end up," Massee said. "But we’re a pretty confident team. We slipped up a little last week, but I think these guys believe in their hearts that they’re the best team in the region. Now, we have the chance to go out and prove it."
In order to avenge their earlier loss, the Jacket offense will have to come to life. SEB was shutout in both of its region losses this season and — while offense has been plentiful in its victories — has been blanked in each of its four total losses in 2012. Looking to provide the spark will be a formidable front line consisting of James Jones and Doug Flott while Patrick Chambers is a threat on the wing and midfielder Sean Healy can control the pace of a game, as well as provide accurate passes on free kicks and corners.
The Jackets certainly have the firepower to notch a win, but to get the region title, they’ll have to keep Bleckley off of the scoreboard. The SEB defense has risen to the occasion numerous times this season, but the necessary shutout will be in the hands of senior goalkeeper Riley Dinkins. In his first chance to avenge an earlier loss this season, Dinkins was up to the task, shutting down Savannah Christian in a 4-1 SEB win.
"I think that we’re a solid team all the way through," Massee said. "It also helps that Bleckley is a little bit more of a defensive-minded team. But that just means it will be that much tougher for us to score. In the end, it just boils down to us playing our best game in order to get this win."
No matter the outcome, SEB’s next game will be in the do-or-die state playoffs against a Region 4-AA opponent. A shutout win means that the Jackets will host No. 4 seed Pike County. A non shutout win will put SEB up against No. 3 seed Lamar County and a loss will force the Jackets on the road against Putnam County.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.