Just 32 teams remain in the hunt for the Georgia High School Association Class-AA state baseball title and two local teams are still in the hunt as both Southeast Bulloch and Screven County prepare for first round matchups beginning today.
As a No. 4 seed, SEB will travel to Berrien while No. 2 seed Screven will host Thomasville.
The more surprising of the two teams still alive is SEB, which endured its lumps last season, but has brought a young team hungry for success into this year’s playoffs.
"We don’t have guys with experience in state like other teams might," said SEB coach Brandon Peterson. "But that doesn’t concern me too much. We’ve got a team that will play hard and fight through every out."
The Yellow Jackets proved as much, enduring more than their fair share of adversity just to make it this far into the season.
Faced with a do-or-die game against Bleckley County in the Region 3-AA playoffs, SEB trailed by four in the final inning, but rallied to take a lead and clinch a spot in the state tournament. It will take the same brand of determination and fearlessness for the Jackets to keep advancing now.
"Obviously, that game with Bleckley was a big test," said Peterson. "We also played a lot of close games throughout the regular season that have given us an idea of the intensity and focus that you have to have to win big games. Now, every step you take, the stakes get higher and the road gets tougher. We’ve made it this far, but we have to elevate our play from here on out."
The Jackets will travel to Berrien, playing a doubleheader today in a best-of-three series. If the teams split, a decisive third game will be held Saturday.
Berrien was more than impressive in taking the Region 1-AA crown and a No. 1 state seed, but Peterson has his team prepared.
"We know that Berrien is a good team, but we’re confident," said Peterson. "All year, we’ve preached doing the little things right. If we can do that and play our brand of baseball, I know that we’re a very competitive team."
Just up the road, the Jackets’ longtime rivals will enjoy a home-field advantage as Screven County hosts Thomasville in its first round state matchup.
"Having home field is a big plus," said Screven coach Billy Pollock. "Thomasville had a five-hour bus ride that I’m sure they didn’t enjoy too much, but that isn’t what concerns us. When you get this deep in the season, everyone is a quality team and you have to be at your best to win no matter the circumstances.
Now sitting contently with a No. 2 seed in the state playoffs, there was little evidence to predict the Gamecocks’ current situation just a handful of weeks ago.
Screven stumbled to an 0-5 start, but got its act together and stormed to a 7-1 region record to take its sub-region and power into the top half of the state tournament seeds.
"We had some injuries to contend with early," said Pollock. "I’m proud that we were able to face some adversity and battle through it. Now, we’ve got a healthier team and it’s shown in the way we’ve been playing."
Screven and Thomasville will also play a doubleheader in their best-of-three series today.
First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. with the second game beginning 30 minutes after the conclusion of Game 1. If necessary, a decisive Game 3 will be held in Sylvania Saturday afternoon.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.