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Yellow Jackets face tough opener in state playoffs
021114 BKB SEB HOOPS 02
Southeast Bulloch's Preston Smith, right, drives through an Islands defender during a Feb. 11 win in Brooklet. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    BROOKLET — When basketball season began back in November, the Southeast Bulloch boys had a clear goal.
    After taking a huge step forward during the 2012-13 season, the Yellow Jackets felt that this was their year to claim a spot in the state playoffs. SEB held its own in one of the toughest regions in the state before winning a pair of games in the region postseason tournament to claim a No. 4 seed in the Class AAA state playoffs.
“I think we’re proud of accomplishing our goal of getting to the state playoffs,” SEB coach John Page said. “But it’s one of those things were we achieved it and now we want more. We’re definitely not content just getting here. Now the goal becomes winning in the playoffs.”
    The initial mission has been accomplished, but now an even bigger mountain looms ahead.
    In the state tournament for the first time since 2001, the Yellow Jackets (18-11) draw No. 1 seed Washington County (23-1) in a first round matchup set to tip off at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Sandersville.
    The Golden Hawks tore through the majority of their opponents, going undefeated in the Region 3-AAA regular season and tournament while boasting an average score of 64-43. Washington County’s only defeat this season came against Class AAAA power Fayette County during a holiday tournament in December.
    On paper, the Hawks seem like an easy favorite.
    Then again, Southeast Bulloch hasn’t gone from a winless team two seasons ago into this year’s state playoff contenders by following the script.
    “We definitely have plenty of experience against great teams in playing Savannah and Johnson a few times,” Page said. “Looking at Washington County, they’re definitely talented, but they aren’t quite as big as some other teams. I think we actually match up a bit better.”
    Southeast Bulloch enters tonight’s game coming off losses in the semifinal and consolation rounds of its region tournament. Inclement weather leading up to — and including a few days in the middle of — the Region 1-AAA tournament forced the Jackets to play seven games in less than two weeks. With much fresher legs after six days of rest, SEB feels like it is ready to play its best game.
    If the Jackets are to pull off the upset, they’ll likely need a full team effort.
    Much of SEB’s success this season has stemmed from the emergence of a full arsenal of scorers instead of relying on one hot hand.
    Sheldon Hendrix is a constant threat to score from outside along with Matthew McBride. Lamont Ballard and Markel Ming can both drive through traffic to score tough points inside and the duo of Kaelin Jones and Cole Carter will be prepared to battle on the boards throughout the night.
    “It’s great that these guys have worked hard to get to where we wanted to be when the season started,” Page said. “I know that (playing in the state playoffs) is going to be a new challenge for them. I think we’re prepared for it.”
    Top priority for SEB will be finding away to slow down senior Mckel Miller, who is averaging 14.6 points per game for the Hawks.
    But simply stopping one player won't be enough. Washington County has four players netting at least eight points per game and four more pulling down at least four rebounds in each contest.
    The winner of tonight's contest will advance to Monday's second round. In the round of 16, either Central Macon or Rockmart will be waiting.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.