BROOKLET — For the last few years, Region 3-AA has been a force in the state softball tournament.
Southeast Bulloch has not been the region’s representative in a few years, but is determined to continue the region's tradition.
After finishing as the region runner-up, the Lady Yellow Jackets (22-7-2) stormed through the first round of the state playoffs, then outlasted No. 1 seed Cook to earn its first trip to the Elite Eight since the 2008 season.
The Jackets join Region 3-AA champ Bleckley County among the remaining teams and are looking to make a full weekend out of the double-elimination tournament.
“Other than myself, only Megan Cook and Nira Byrd have been here before,” said SEB coach Aimee Civalier. “But overall, I think that we’re a very confident team. I know that I’m confident in what we can accomplish.”
Much of SEB’s postseason success has been predicated on the strong right arm of Sierra Peebles. Though just a freshman, Peebles has pitched every inning of the playoffs for the Jackets and – even against some of the best competition in the state – continues to add to a length list of great performances in her first year of high school competition.
Of course, the team is much deeper than one player – something that showed in the do-or-die Game 3 against Cook last week.
Pitching her third game in less than 24 hours, Peebles lacked her best stuff and managed just two strikeouts while allowing five runs. Rallying behind their ace, the Jackets came up with clutch hits to earn the win and punch their ticket to Columbus.
“We grew up a lot against Cook,” said Civalier. “There were a lot of obstacles to overcome. We were on the road against a very good team and Sierra didn’t have her best game. We came up big on defense and with the bats. We’re definitely a more complete team than we were at the beginning of the season.”
SEB will need to continue that sort of all-around consistency today as they face a tough draw to open the double-elimination tournament that will decide the state champ.
Today at noon, the Jackets will square off against Buford – which is far from a stranger to the Elite Eight. The Lady Wolves (29-10) have won the last four Class-AA state championships and their seniors are a combined 120-21-1 in their careers and, like last season’s senior class, are looking to earn a championship in every year with the program.
“Buford is definitely a tough test,” said Civalier. “They have a lot of talent and they know how to win big games.”
Southeast can’t match the clout and overall power of the Wolves, but they have the makeup of a team that can stick around and pull some upsets.
Peebles, Effie Manahan and Ciera Clark are run-producing bats in the middle of the order while Byrd and Lindsey Crosby are adept at getting on base at the top of the order and the duo of Jasmine Roberts and Breanna Gates bring blazing speed to the base paths in their roles as courtesy runners.
Combined with the Jackets’ pitching, defense, and ability to make contact – even against power pitchers – all of those variables should give Buford and any other team a run for their money.
Asked what she will tell her team before their first game, Civalier kept it simple.
“We’ve practiced hard and we’re very well prepared,” she said. “I’m just going to tell them to have fun.”
With a win over Buford, SEB will play the winner of the game between Brantley County and Blessed Trinity at 5:30 p.m.
A loss will put the Jackets in an elimination game with the loser of the Brantley and Blessed Trinity game Friday at 9 a.m.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.