BROOKLET — As the Region 1-AAA boys tournament began Tuesday evening, Southeast Bulloch knew exactly what the task was.
In order to punch their first ticket to the state playoffs since 2001, the Yellow Jackets needed to win their first two games of the region tournament.
Islands put up a good fight, but the first step for SEB went according to plan as the Yellow Jackets recorded a 71-55 victory.
Preston Smith and Lamont Ballard scored 16 and 15 points, respectively, while seven other Jackets registered points in what was a hard-earned team win.
“We knew we were going to have to play well for four quarters,” SEB coach John Page said. “I didn’t expect Islands to give in and they didn’t. When we got in our rhythm, we were able to hit some shots and get out in front.”
Even with the win, the Jackets’ dreams of qualifying for the Class AAA state tournament will have to wait at least 24 hours longer than planned. SEB’s quarterfinal matchup with Brantley County was originally scheduled for today at Beach High School has been postponed due to inclement weather. The Jackets will take on the Herons – with a ticket to the state playoffs awarded to the winner – Thursday at 5:30 pm. at Beach.
Facing an Islands team that brought up the rear of the region standings Tuesday night, the Jackets (17-9) tried to jump out in front early. SEB connected on four of its first six shots from the field and led by as many as eight points in the opening period, but the Sharks rallied and Marlon Bowen hit a 3 at the end of the first quarter to tie the score at 16-16.
Southeast Bulloch broke away for good in the second quarter.
Markel Ming canned a 3-pointer early in the period and added five free throws along the way. Smith hit a pair of field goals and SEB carried a 37-23 advantage into halftime.
The Jackets stretched their lead all the way to 20 points midway through the third quarter, but a pair of 3s by Leneal McCall (14) points kept Islands competitive.
The Sharks trimmed the lead all the way down to 62-55 midway through the fourth period when Bowen missed on a pair of free throw opportunities. Smith and Ballard connected from the field on consecutive possessions as Islands finally allowed the floodgates to open.
“Nerves are always going to play a factor in the postseason, but we did what we had to,” Page said. “We’ll have to see what we can do (Wednesday) as far as practicing, but we’ll be ready for our next game.”
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.