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Screven faces toughest test yet, travels to North Oconee
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    Screven County is as far along in the playoffs as anyone can remember.
    Just six days ago, Screven swept No. 4 seed Appling County, outscoring the Pirates 21-12 in the doubleheader. Some favorable matchups and solid offense has the Gamecocks where they are, but they know it just gets harder from here.
    Today, the Gamecocks hit the road to Bogart, Ga. to take on No. 1 seed North Oconee (24-6, 19-1 Region 8-AA) for a 4 p.m. doubleheader in the Elite Eight of the state playoffs.
    Screven has enjoyed home-field thus far throughout the GHSA Class AA state playoffs, but a road trip won’t change much for the focused ball club.
     “We’re not going jump outside the box and do anything special,” said SCHS coach Billy Pollock. “We’re just going to leave a little bit earlier and take our time. We’ll give them about 20 minutes to get settled, then we’ll go into our pregame routine. It’s worked very well for us this year, and that’s what we’re going to stick with.”
    The Titans utilize a short field, and Pollock feels that that is one aspect of home-field advantage that leans in favor of NOHS, who has used its smaller field to its opponents’ demise all year long.
    “They’ll hang with the best of them,” said Pollock. “One thing I don’t really like that I hear is that the park that we’re going to play in is 308 down the line and 330 to center, which really doesn’t play into our game.
    “We talked to the kids about it and tried to let them stay focused on the job at hand — still take the ball to the right-centerfield gap and not let that fence get in our eyes and take us out of our ballgame.”
    Since knocking off unbeaten Region 3-AA champion Westside to end the regular season, the Gamecocks have used a small-ball approach and some solid hitting to average nine runs per game.
    “Our discipline at the plate has just peaked at the perfect time,” Pollock said. “We’re swinging at the good pitches and we’re hitting good pitches — letting the bad stuff go.”
    The Screven defense has faltered at times, so the Gamecocks have had to rely on their production at the plate during their five-game winning streak. They have won nine out of the last 10.
    “We’re still making errors in the field that should not be made,” Pollock said, “but luckily we’re staying in those ballgames because our bats are keeping us in those ballgames. Any time you can do that, I feel pretty confident right on into the Final Four.”
    North Oconee will look to a strong three-man pitching rotation in order to calm the SCHS bats. A trio of righties — Caleb Moony, Robert Kittle and Taylor Hicks — allows the Titans some room for error in the best-of-three series.
    The Gamecocks have relied on just two pitchers so far in the state playoffs. Through four games, Jack Frankhouser and Cameron Hayden have two complete games each. They will look to get out of Bogart in one day.
    Fortunately, due to the playoff format, Screven has had some extra time to prepare.
    “We’ve actually had two weeks of practice that we normally don’t have,” said Pollock. “We can encourage some other stuff and start putting in some new defensive schemes and ways to match these teams according to their scouting report. It’s nice to have that time and it’s nice to have the quality of ballplayers that we have right now that are dedicated enough to allow us to change what they do in practice, too.”
    Should the teams split today, game three will be played at North Oconee on Wednesday. All games will be will be on the radio and will be broadcast on 106.5 FM.

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.