Last season the Southeast Bulloch Yellow Jackets advanced to the third round of the state playoffs and in most years that means a trip to Columbus for the Elite-8. COVID issues forced the GHSA to limit the state championships to only four teams and the Jackets' loss to Rockmart in a grueling three game series ended their season.
This year the GHSA is back to hosting the Elite-8 in Columbus and the Jackets punched their ticket as they swept White County winning game one 2-0 and then taking the second game 6-2.
“Being able to sweep the first two rounds of the state has helped us to stay fresh,” said Southeast Bulloch coach Aimee Civalier. “It’s an exciting time around here as we missed out on this last year because of the number of teams they allowed to Columbus. We have had a good few days of practice and are ready to hit the road. I feel like we are playing our best softball right now and this is the right time to peak.”
This week the Jackets are off to Columbus as they open things up against Sonoraville Thursday at 4:00. The Jackets are hoping their upper classmen with experience of playing in the Elite-8 will be able to help the younger players understand what playing in the Elite-8 is all about.
“We have been preparing all year for this and there are only a few girls who haven’t been here before,” said junior infielder Delanie Thames. “Having missed the whole year last season, I am really excited about getting back to Columbus. We have tried to explain to those who haven’t been here how different it is from the regular season and I think we are prepared.”
The Yellow Jackets will be counting on the durability and leadership of senior pitcher Alana Barnard. With a lack of depth at pitcher, Barnard has been on a roll particularly since a subpar effort in the Jackets' loss to Screven County September 27, which is also the last time the Jackets lost a game.
“My pitches weren’t working from the beginning and that game went horribly wrong,” said Barnard. “It made me realize I wasn’t working as hard as I could in practice pitching and it also made me understand we don’t really have another option if I’m struggling. I felt like from there I understood I had to put the team on my back and know that when I’m pitching well it gives our team confidence. I know I am going to have to throw a lot of innings in Columbus and I feel like I will have to rely on my spin and not just my speed in order for us to be successful.”
The Jackets come in with a record of 19-4 and have won 15 of their last 16 games. Their opponent Thursday is Sonoraville who come in with a record of 25-5. The Phoenix were region champs in a tough Class AAA Region-6 which included perineal state playoff teams like Ringgold and Rockmart and are led by pitcher Taylor Long who had a record of 22-1 this year with 328 strikeouts in 157 innings and had an ERA of 0.49.
“They play in a tough region so we know they are battle tested,” said Civalier. “They have a really strong pitcher and a solid defense. They don’t score a lot of runs so we feel if we can get out to a lead that is crucial.”
The Elite-8 tournament is a double elimination tournament and the Jackets know the importance of staying in the winner’s bracket.
“It is a stage like no other and know how important it is to get off to a good start,” said Civalier. “You definitely want to stay in the winner’s bracket because it is such a tough road out of the loser’s bracket especially with a lack of depth at pitching. We are going to do what we can to get runs early to take some pressure off of help Alana and our defense.”
Southeast Bulloch and Sonoraville are scheduled for a 4:00 start Thursday. The winner plays Friday at 9 a.m. the loser would play Friday at 1:00 p.m.